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Twist led to a musical partnership between a patient and her surgeon

It's not the kind of story you hear every day. A woman with a passion for music, goes in for a routine mammogram and learns she carries a gene that would almost certainly predispose her to cancer.

She courageously opts to undergo extensive preventive surgery.

At this point the story takes an interesting twist — for while her plastic surgeon works to save her life, they learn they share a common interest in music. They eventually go on to tour the world together with their musical gift, recording a CD, co-writing a book and creating a website to provide patients and families with support and information.

Such is the true tale of gifted violinist Anne Robert and surgeon Dr Alain Gagnon, who happens to be a pianist.

The talented duo have held concerts in Canada, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Ireland and Italy — and come this weekend they will be playing for audiences in Bermuda.

‘A Musician and her Surgeon' will take place at St John's Church, Pembroke, on Saturday at 8pm. All proceeds from the event go towards cancer charity PALS.

Ms Robert said she hoped the performance would leave the audience feeling “deeply touched in their souls” and with a profound sense of serenity, hope and love.

Through music from composers like Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms, the performers aim to take people through a range of different emotions and help them come to terms with their own feelings about universal sentiments like anguish, solitude, gratitude etc.

Ms Robert said: “The main reason for the concert for me is to help people realise that in fact any ordeal we have is the opportunity to transform our lives, make it more full and more real.

“Every piece has been chosen by me and depicts in music exactly how I felt emotionally in each [stage of my illness].”

In 2009, Ms Robert had gone in for a routine mammogram, when she learned she had breast cancer.

After undergoing a mastectomy and radiotherapy, her oncologist suggested she take a genetic test — at which point they discovered her father also had breast cancer.

Carrying the same mutated gene meant the possibility of her developing a new case of breast cancer was as high as 86 percent; while the chances of getting ovarian cancer was around 50 percent.

A “period of utter anguish” followed as she decided whether to undergo preventive surgery or not.

She said: “I sailed through the cancer period (diagnosis and treatment) very well, with a very positive mind, but the diagnosis of the mutation was very hard, primarily because it is not an illness as such, and what to do or not do is entirely the patient's responsibility.

“It forced me, and now I am so grateful for it, to really go deep within and find out for myself what the meaning of my life and what my ‘mission' was in order to make a serene decision as to what to do to help myself remove the ‘Damocles Sword' that I now felt had been put over my head by that diagnosis.”

The silver lining in this situation came one day when Ms Robert was studying a musical part in the consultation room of the hospital.

She was waiting to meet her surgeon, Dr Gagnon, when they learned of their shared passion for music.

“It was also very natural that we decided to play together during my convalescence and gradually our project evolved very naturally,” she said.

Over the past three years Ms Robert said her life has been transformed “of course, physically”, but also psychologically and spiritually. “I feel I live my life much more fully and with a lot more serenity and peace.”

Tickets for ‘A Musician and her Surgeon' are $35 or $75 for patrons. They are available online at www.ptix.bm or from PALS Headquarters: 18 Point Finger Road, Paget (236-7257).

A musician and her surgeon: Anne Robert, plays violin and Dr Alain Gagnon, piano

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Published October 16, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 15, 2013 at 8:36 pm)

Twist led to a musical partnership between a patient and her surgeon

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