The first notes of wild, lovely music reached Deb Fisher as she left her chemo treatment.
“Are there bagpipers here?” she asked her husband, Lee, stepping into the elevator.
She turned to him and asked directly. “Are THE bagpipers here?”
One look at his face and she knew: This music, this holiday tune, this Christmas Eve surprise was a gift. For her.
She stepped from the elevator into the lobby of the Spectrum Health Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion, wiping away tears. Several dozen friends and family members watched, smiled and cried as “Angels We Have Heard on High” filled the soaring atrium.
Fisher hugged her nephew. She wrapped her friend Gina Nawrocki in an emotional embrace.
And then she walked to the Christmas tree, where two bagpipers played, sat down and soaked in the music.
Such a fitting way to celebrate a second-to-last chemotherapy treatment for Fisher—with a rousing performance of bagpipe music.
“It’s my favorite,” she said.
A milestone moment
A special education teacher at Caledonia High School, Fisher plays piano and has taught piano for years. A few years back, she joined a group of bagpipers in Caledonia and learned to play the traditional Scottish instrument.
Three years ago, she received treatment for breast cancer, said her husband, Lee. The cancer went into remission, but it affected her breathing and caused glaucoma. She had to stop playing the pipes, but remained close to the musical group.
I’m overwhelmed. It’s so touching.
Last spring, the cancer resurfaced. She underwent a double mastectomy. In July, she began chemotherapy.
On Monday morning, she arrived at the Cancer and Hematology Centers of Western Michigan at Lemmen Holton for the 15th infusion. Her last one is scheduled for New Year’s Eve.
“This is a big milestone,” she said. “I will celebrate this, for sure.”
As the chemo drug dripped in through the intravenous line, Fisher sat in a chair, wearing her favorite “Home Alone” Christmas sweater.
She chatted with family members who came with her—as they had for many previous treatments— including her husband, daughters and sisters. She smiled at 8-month-old granddaughter, Remi, who sat on her lap, beaming up at everyone gathered around.
“I don’t know what I would do without all of you,” Fisher said. “Probably not have as much fun during chemo.”
Her co-workers at Caledonia High School also have provided support, she added. Many donated sick days to help her as she took off a semester to battle cancer.
“It is really cool,” she said. “I can’t put into words the many things that have happened—that are kind and compassionate.”
She didn’t realize that, in the lobby downstairs, more friends and family members gathered, ready to help celebrate the milestone.
Preparing the surprise
Kyle Wellfare, the band director at the high school and bagpiping friend, came up with the idea for the Christmas Eve performance. He saw how music helped his mom when she went through cancer treatments.
“It’s nice to have something to uplift you—something exciting and different,” he said.
He and Dorothy Wilson, who has played bagpipes for 50 years, arranged the event with help from Fisher’s daughter Audrey, also a Caledonia teacher.
“I think it’s amazing,” Lee said. “It’s great to have this support.”
The musicians waited in the lobby, garlands decorating their pipes, as Fisher had her chemo infusion. When they got word she was done and on her way to the lobby, they began to play Christmas carols: “Adeste Fideles,” “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
The crowd burst into applause. Fisher thanked her friends warmly for the music.
“We wanted to surprise you,” Wellfare said.
“You did!” Fisher said, laughing. “I’m overwhelmed. It’s so touching.
She looked around, marveling at all the family members and friends sprinkled throughout the lobby, sharing the moment, and said, “How can I not get better with support like this?”