The Heather Pick Music Fund: Sharing the Healing Power of Music
Heather Pick was more than the beloved morning and noon news anchor for WBNS 10-TV whom viewers in central Ohio came to know and care about. She was a mother of two, a wife, a sister and a daughter, as well as a wonderful singer and songwriter. In her last years before dying of breast cancer at age 38, she worked with Mark Puskarich, founder of the Christmas to Cure Cancer and Blues for a Cure events, to encourage giving to cancer research.
Through the Heather Pick Music Program Fund at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute, Pick continues to inspire through music. The fund brings professional musicians representing genres as varied as classical, bluegrass, barbershop quartet, jazz and more to the new James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute to play for patients and families. For those unable to leave their rooms to experience the music live, remote camera equipment purchased through the fund allows patients to watch the performances in real time, with previous performances saved on a DVR channel that enables on-demand viewing.
A conversation Puskarich had with David Schuller, MD, then-vice president of medical center expansion and outreach, helped to shape the vision for the fund. Recalls Puskarich, “Music was one of the ways that Dr. Schuller wanted to differentiate the new hospital from other cancer hospitals in the world. There is scientific evidence that music helps people heal faster, get off drugs faster and get out of the hospital faster. Music can help your attitude and outlook and can inspire you.”
Pick would have supported the fund’s mission wholeheartedly, given her longtime connection to music. As one of seven children in Platteville, Wisconsin, she and her family grew up singing and playing music together. Her husband, Joe Cygan, also has musical talents, serving as lead singer and guitarist in the local pop-punk-rock quintet Hot Pink Racers. Formed in 2010 with four friends and co-workers, the band devotes its music to raising awareness for breast cancer causes.
In 2006, at Puskarich’s request, Pick recorded a cover of "Santa Baby" for the annual A Christmas to Cure Cancer compilation that was in heavy rotation on central Ohio radio stations. In 2007, the year before her death, Pick made a full-length CD titled Circle of Support, recorded partially in Nashville in a studio run by a friend of Puskarich, with the rest recorded, mixed and mastered by Puskarich in Ohio. In the title song penned by Pick and co-written by Dave Clo, she tells her friends and loved ones, “You’re my circle of support, I can’t do this without you…I know my circle starts with you.”
The experience of recording with Pick was memorable, says Puskarich. “She wasn’t feeling the best—you could tell just by looking at her, but not by anything she would say. She always asked about everyone else, was always putting everyone else first. Here I am asking someone who’s a wife, a mother, has a demanding job, and is going through cancer treatments, ‘Do you have time to go to Nashville and record a CD?’ And she said, ‘Yes, let’s do that.’”
The result is a CD that friends and strangers say lifts their spirits during tough times. “Her voice takes you to that other side that tells you you are going to be okay,” says WBNS anchor and close friend of Pick’s, Angela An. “That is the spirit behind Heather’s CD, and it’s what the Heather Pick Music Program does for patients and families. It focuses on the music that your spirit will dance to.”
Pick would have been very proud of the fund’s work, says An, who seven years later still deeply misses her friend and colleague. “Heather never complained. Even when going through treatment, she would be in the makeup room, chipper and smiling, asking how you were doing. She became our litmus test: If you were having a bad day, she offered great perspective on what was important in life.”
The Heather Pick Music Program is primarily funded through proceeds from A Christmas to Cure Cancer, the annual concert held at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, as well as musician Sean Carney’s Blues for a Cure. This year’s Christmas concert will take place Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, from 6-9 p.m. at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. In addition to ticket sales and live and silent auctions during the event, the sale of A Christmas to Cure Cancer CD also generates support for Pick’s Fund. To purchase tickets or learn more, please visit achristmastocurecancer.org. To donate, visit go.osu.edu/HeatherPickMusicProgram.