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I Am In Pieces, Can You Hold Me Together?

by Susan Matthews

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On 12th March last year (2019) I was being prepped for major surgery.

At the start of 2019 I'd had lots of exciting plans for my music but a breast cancer diagnosis in February put a halt to most of my dreams for the year.

One of those plans was to play an improvised solo piano set live at the opening of an exhibition by Hazel Cardew. My surgery was scheduled for 3 days before the opening and I resolved to go ahead with the performance. I knew I would be sore and vulnerable but was determined not to let cancer derail my dreams.

On the morning of 12th March I underwent surgery and recovered well from the general anaesthetic. However, within hours of coming around, I developed an infection in a vein at one of the cannula sites. It was agony and my left hand became so swollen, I couldn’t move my fingers. I had to admit defeat and cancel the performance. I was very disappointed.

By the weekend, my hand was still swollen and extremely painful. The left side of my upper body was a solid bruise. My chest wall and shoulder muscles were intensely sore (indeed, my pectoralis major had been damaged during the surgery) and I struggled to move my left arm.

I was desperate to salvage something from the devastation I felt. So I mic-ed the piano and leaned my left side into the keyboard so I could play with minimal movement of my left arm and hand, I closed my eyes and improvised.

The resulting piece is slow, raw, vulnerable and visceral. It reflects the pain, sadness, anger, shock and grief I felt both physically and emotionally. It represents what cancer takes, the damage it does, its heartlessness and cruelty. But it also represents a desire to connect with the creative forces even in the depths of despair.

Cancer took a lot from me: it took my faith in the integrity of my body, it took tissue, skin and muscle, it destroyed nerves, confidence and self-esteem. It took time and energy and at times, my dignity. It took creative opportunities and it hurt me and the people I love the most.

But, we came through it… damaged but not destroyed. I began 2020 a lot more subdued and sanguine than the previous year. I’m still healing physically and emotionally. I have a long journey ahead, but right now, in this moment I feel good, I feel positive, I feel creative.

One day at a time…

Susan, 12th March, 2020


released March 12, 2020

Composed, Performed & Produced by Susan Matthews, March 2019


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