Breast Cancer Awareness

Marilyn would play her harp while receiving chemo treatments.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, focusing on strength, fearlessness and coming together. In my book, “Living Namaste Photography and Spoken Word Poetry“, I wrote about Marilyn who embraced all of these characteristics and so much more because she touched my life in such a profound way. While receiving chemo, she played her harp for all and created such calmness for everyone. Here is the excerpt from the book and here’s to you Marilyn!

Harp and Soul

The monitor’s flashing lights



Stared at as if it was the judge and jury

On the verge of the verdict

A pronouncement of fate

All the while the machine scans take control

Beep after Beep

Drip after drip

Can chemo be convicted of a murder charge

Please God

Kill the cancer within

Each person around the room

So many stories to speak

Hearts yearning for those once

Incidental moments of

Ordinary life

Now Grown extraordinary in scope

Lifelines of hope

Intimacy and sterility

Each has been touched

Tested Scanned and cut

With scars left to heal

Similarities and differences

References and preferences

Fear and fight

Courage not cancer must survive

Must have might to see the light

A woman in the chemo room

Tubes and drips

Connected and grounded and yet


A gentle spirit

A musician of the heart

Soul soothing sounds unbound

The freed notes float with a whisper of hope

The mystical magic streaming from her harp

The tremor of a string to calm

The tremors caused by fear

Comforting held so dear

The musician

The patient

The healer as one

Thinking of others

The gifting to others

The lifting of others

I bow to you my teacher


Your divine life a work of art

Inspiring us all to do our part

Create a melody of sanctuary and shelter

A presence so soothing and soul centered

Harmony and healing.

The Harpist: Another Way of Storytelling

As a visual storyteller, I have always been drawn to the power of the still photograph. One image can convey so very much and if strong enough, bring one to stop and breathe it in. I chose to create another way of relating the powerful and gentle story of Marilyn Lemke who is receiving chemotherapy for her second bout with breast cancer. Marilyn allowed me to come into her home and listen as she shared her life story. A former teacher who decided to play her harp at the bedside of those in hospice. It was there that she met Nancy Ostroff, a hospice nurse. Nancy saw first hand how soothing the music was and she and Marilyn became quick friends. Nancy began taking lessons from Marilyn every Monday. At other times, Marilyn has travelled around the world with Jerry Lacey while sharing a relationship spanning decades. Both were such valued and strong supports when Marilyn learned her breast cancer returned. They now sit by her side at every chemo treatment, doctors’ appointments and recently surgery to remove a brain tumor. Marilyn has made a choice to approach each treatment in a very gentle way . She visualizes each drop as a cleansing while playing her harp throughout. I had the great honor of seeing how her music brought a peace and certain joy to the infusion room at Fox Chase Hospital. Rather than stay in each small section of the room, curtains were drawn and patients were all talking. Before Marilyn began, the only sounds were that of machines and quiet whispers. Her music drifted in and melted that sterile, secluded environment. Marilyn is still very much a teacher by her gentle example. I was given a glimpse of very strong bonds of love, courage rather than fear and peace rather than war. I am so very grateful.

A Great Woman, Gentle Music and Loving Friends Standing Up To Breast Cancer

I met Marilyn Lemke by chance…at the Lancome Counter where she had just received a make-over sponsored by Fox Chase Cancer Center (although she is so beautiful without the make-up!) Marilyn was so easy to talk with. She related that this was her second bout with breast cancer and previously she saw it as a battle, this time around Marilyn brings her harp to each treatment and puts herself in the mindset of receiving a gentle cleansing. Marilyn is such an inspiration to me in the way she meets this challenge with courage, dignity and grace. She radiates a sense of peace. We became fast friends and I just knew I had to tell the story of Marilyn, her harp and her very loving friends, Nancy and Jerry.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Too many of us know friends, mothers, wives, sisters and brothers with this disease. May a cure be in sight.

2012 copyright Frances Schwabenland

Gentle Greatness

I believe there is a synchronicity to life. In an exquisitely unfolding universe, there is a plan and a purpose for all. Today was one of those days when a chance meeting turned into a truly inspirational day. I met Marilyn and her great friend Nancy, while just waiting for a salesperson. We got to talking and she related that she and Nancy play the harp for hospice patients and that she herself was going through her second bout with breast cancer. In order to make the best of this very challenging situation, Marilyn takes her harp for each session of chemo. Her great friends, Jerry and Nancy, accompany her to every Friday session. When Marilyn can’t play, Nancy takes over. I could not stop talking and thinking about this amazing woman and the strong bonds of friendship which surround her. I just knew I had to share her story, her courage and her uplifting spirit in the face of adversity. I am so very grateful to Marilyn for allowing me the priviledge to accompany and photograph/video her today while she received her chemo treatment. I have her music, video and photographs to gather together, but I just wanted to pass on the very beginnings of this day.

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