Getting the Lead Out: How Led Zeppelin Helped Me Fight Breast Cancer

Zepp Denmark

I didn’t understand why I kept doing it. Nearly every night in the latter weeks of undergoing chemotherapy for an aggressive form of breast cancer, I stayed up late, sometimes into the dark hours of early morning, watching Led Zeppelin concerts from the late 1960s and early 1970s on You Tube. And okay, I admit it. It wasn’t just during the last days of chemo that I was dialing up Page, Plant and Co. It was on through the mastectomy of my right breast and the first of my reconstructive surgeries.

What was the deal? It wasn’t like I had just discovered the band. I grew up with them.

I felt a bit unmoored.

After weeks of this, I confessed my nighttime rendezvouses to my friend, Sharlene, over lunchtime salads.

“Do you think this is abnormal? Is there something wrong with me?”

Sharlene assured me she thought my mental state was intact. Thank you, friend! So, sure enough, that night I returned to Zepp’s 2007 reunion concert at London’s 02 Arena (somehow, I was comforted by the older age of the band as it was in keeping with mine). I had seen this performance how many times now? But watching Page’s fingers running up and down the frets of his guitar during “Ramble On” never grew old. The power of the sound reverberated right through me.

Still a creeping sense of guilt tugged at the back of my mind.

A few days later, I called a good buddy who also happens to be a practicing psychiatrist.

“There is something clearly wrong with me.”

“Why do you think that?”

“Because I’m obsessed with a band from the 1970s. It’s like I’m a teenager or something.”

“Well,” Joanie asked, “Do you enjoy the music?”


“Good. Then don’t worry about it.”

I had a shrink’s blessing. I resumed my fandom.

Today, sitting in a hospital chair, fluids and magnesium dripping into my veins, it has dawned on me that I’ve been in a type of mourning. Not so much for the loss of my breast, though that hasn’t been easy, but for the young woman (still a girl, really) I was as the 70s era faded. It wasn’t really the beauty of a young Robert Plant that I longed for when I watched those early concerts; it’s the beauty that I was.

I miss her.

I’ve missed her shiny, sleek hair, how lithe she was on those first few steps of her near daily run, her wide, wondering eyes in the mirror, her slim frame, often eager mind, and her ability to experience life fresh of too many disappointments. And oh, that magical thinking, when young was something you would always be and one year stretched on forever.

One year races by now. And everything is measured in time, appointments and deadlines. “Today, tomorrow, yesterday.” I don’t think about time when I watch those old Led Zeppelin concerts. It doesn’t exist.

After a year off from running, I received the “all clear” to resume the sport again. So this evening, I’ll lace up my shoes and take this aging, cancer-recovering body out for the first of what I hope will be many more runs. And I’ll reconnect with that young woman whom I’ve realized remains inside, but just in case it’s hard to find her, I’ll turn on my iPod Shuffle and press play to “Ramble On.”

9 thoughts on “Getting the Lead Out: How Led Zeppelin Helped Me Fight Breast Cancer

  1. Trent Tomengo

    Beauty and Magic indeed in Led Zeppelin’s music! Enjoyed the read! You continue to amaze and inspire me!


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