Victory Choir Offers Healing, Home to Cancer Survivors and Caregivers

Victory Choir

It’s still a few hours until the Gacusan family has to make the drive from Marysville to The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.

But Cresenciana Gacusan, 81, a 14-year breast cancer survivor, is excited and ready to go — and to start singing with the Victory Choir.

The Victory Choir is a group comprised of cancer survivors and their caregivers, organized by JamesCare For Life to perform at various OSUCCC – James events.

“When I say we’re leaving at 4 o’clock, she’s ready to go at 2 o’clock,” said her son, Roumel Gacusan. “She talks so much about the group, its like a family for her. She grew up singing in choirs and we grew up singing in choirs.”

The Victory Choir helped kick off Cancer Survivors Month with a concert on June 1 in the lobby of the OSUCCC – James. They sang “Hallelujah,” “Catch a Falling Star,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “You Raise Me Up” and several other songs.

“We just love to sing,” said Honesto Gacusan, who is Cresenciana’s husband and Roumel’s father. All three are in the Victory Choir along with Emma Gacusan (Roumel’s wife) and Ruth Caballes (Honesto and Cresenciana’s daughter). Three other members of this musical family from the Philippines have also sung with the Victory Choir.

They sing to support Cresenciana Gacusan, who struggles to speak English, but sings English fluently. The Gacusans are a family of caregiving singers, or perhaps they’re singing caregivers.

“For us to see our mom so happy and enthusiastic makes all the difference,” Roumel Gacusan said. “Victory Choir will always have a special place in our hearts.”

The Victory Choir formed in early 2010, said Kristin Schoeff, the group’s musical accompanist from the start. She already knew the power of music, and singing.

“My sister (Karen Prevette) was a patient at the OSUCCC – James and died from breast cancer in April 2004,” Schoeff said, adding that during those final and difficult months, when Karen was in a lot of pain, the sisters would sing hymns together. “I held her hand and we sang and I could feel her body relax as we sang. I saw how — even in the worst of times for her — how much music can help.”

Several members of the choir have undergone treatment at the OSUCCC – James.

“We’ve had people in all different types and stages of cancer, the whole gamut,” Schoeff said. “There’s something about people facing life and death experiences that adds such a depth to this experience and creates such a bond among the members, a special and very uplifting bond.”

There is indeed something uplifting — and hopeful — about a group of 15 to 20 singers, especially one with such an inspirational back story, coming together to do what they love doing in perfect harmony.

The Victory Choir is more than an inspirational story; it’s a talented group of singers who put on a wonderful show.

Christopher Urbiel recently took over as choir director, and he is also the director of music at St. Francis de Sales Parish in Newark. “He brings us together as one voice; he brings out the best in us,” said long-time member Joan Loomis.

The soft-spoken Urbiel sings along as he leads the choir, and his teaching method includes lots of smiles, thumbs up and compliments.

“This has been a great experience for me,” Urbiel said. “It’s been great to see how musical therapy can help them as they recover and there can be a lot of health benefits.”

Singing helped Marjorie Ebenezer recover her voice.

She was diagnosed with tongue cancer in 2008. Her treatment included a radical neck dissection and the removal of 83 lymph nodes on the right side of her neck. The surgery and subsequent chemotherapy and radiation treatments impacted her voice. “It was so low,” said Ebenezer, who was a public health physician in Pennsylvania before she retired and moved to Central Ohio.

“I saw the flyer about the Victory Choir and said, ‘maybe I’ll go,’” she said. “When I went to rehearsal they asked me which group I belonged to. Before, it was between soprano and alto, and now it was an alto, maybe even a bass.”

Ebenezer began attending the weekly Victory Choir rehearsals, and her voice gradually began to improve and change.

“One day someone turned to me and said, ‘You’re a soprano now,’” she said. “I was shocked my voice had improved so much.”

Music has become a big part of Ebenezer’s life, and in recent years she’s learned how to play the drums (through a JamesCare For Life program), the violin, ukulele, guitar and harmonica.

“You’re never too old,” said Ebenezer, 71, who remains in remission and is doing quite well. “Now my thing is music and I love it; I love signing. Being in the choir has been so rewarding, and I’ve made so many friends.”

For more information on the Victory Choir, call JamesCare for Life at 614-293-6428