Sage advice

Singer-songwriter Rachael Sage told David Hennessy about recovering from endometrical cancer, how Glen Hansard helped her heal and Donald Trump certainly doesn’t.

The American singer-songwriter Rachael Sage will release her latest album next month and she will enjoy releasing this one much more than her album of two years ago. When 2018’s Myopia was put out, she was battling endometrial (uterine) cancer.

Rachael told The Irish World: “”It came out while I was in the hospital. I think it came out on the Friday after the Wednesday I had surgery. 

“It was all very surreal and like a bad movie, a nightmare in effect, but throughout it I had the support of my family and my closest friends. I wasn’t public about it yet. I just felt like I had to get through it first and get to the other side. 

“Now thank goodness after having a year of clear scans under my belt, I am fully and completely in remission and I feel great.”

Sage has shared stages with names such as Sarah McLachlan, Marc Cohn, The Animals, Jamie Cullum, and Ani DiFranco. She has also been named one of the Top 100 Independent Artists of the Past 15 Years by Performing Songwriter magazine.

However, Rachael would have found it hard to see herself getting back onstage when she was undergoing treatment.

“Really all I had the energy to do was just be a patient and I wouldn’t have anticipated that even though people warned me about it. Of course you’re never prepared for a trauma like that so being a very naturally optimistic personality, I kind of anticipated I would write poems and songs through all of it and I just couldn’t. I didn’t even touch a keyboard or pick up a guitar for about nine months really. As I was getting my strength back and becoming myself again, I was just so eager and excited to get back into the studio and play with my band again. 

“I eased into it. I can remember the day my violinist Kelly Halloran came over to my apartment. I didn’t really feel like playing but she was like, ‘Let’s just play some old songs, let’s just do it’. And I was like, ‘Okay..’ 

“And once we started, it just all came back and it was like a flood of memory and inspiration and before too long I was writing again. 

“I think there’s a real lesson there. Hopefully a microcosm for what we’re all going through now because at that point in my life I really felt pretty hopeless. I just felt like I didn’t have those tools anymore. I had sort of forgotten how to do it. It’s just how I felt and it came back so quickly once I was ready, once I was healthy so may that happen to the world as soon as we’re on the other side of this. 

“I feel so grateful to not be going through my treatment now because I can barely imagine what it must be like for those who are having to dodge all of the lack of safety in the hospitals and things like that. I’m counting my blessings.”

Rachael wants to encourage other women to go for regular check-ups as she very nearly paid the price for leaving it too long.

“Like many women I was putting it off. It’s never fun. It’s not something you want to go do but what I would like to emphasise now is how important it is to do that regularly, to go annually, whatever age, whatever point you are at in your life.

“I didn’t have symptoms. I had no idea (I had cancer) and I was late stage when they found it but had I gone a couple of years earlier, it would have been found at stage zero or stage one and I could have avoided this triptych of treatment I had.

“I finally went for this check-up because I was in a new relationship at the time and I thought ‘I’ll just go for a general check-up and that’s when they found this irregularity as they called it.

“It was so casual. It was like, ‘Hey, this is for Rachael. Please call us back. We found something of note in your pap test’. You don’t think much of it but thank goodness I went and thank goodness within a week I was seeing specialists. I was planning a surgery, it was a whirlwind but I had an amazing medical team. They did save my life so I’m very very grateful.”

If Covid-19 had not ruined our summer, Rachael would have been playing at the recent Dublin Pride.

“I am just so sad to not be over there right now but we’re all in the same boat. People are missing concerts and that connection so much. Not only did I have an extraordinary experience a few years ago when I played it the first time, it was just so joyful and such a great memory, but I made some amazing friends who I am still very close with. 

“I alway say that your country is my home away from home.”

Rachael spent a summer in Ireland working with the Abbey Theatre when she was very young and credits the experience with inspiring her and her music.

“I did live in Dublin when I was a teenager and my very first job ever was working as an intern for Bill Whelan. I was over there helping with the Yeats Festival and I just remember falling in love with everything Irish. 

Glen Hansard

“I love the music. I became obsessed with the Frames. I went out and saw music every night. It was just an amazing experience. I think I lived the movie Once before they made that movie. 

“I was 17 or 18 at the time so it was certainly a formative time in my life and my musical, impressionable self. 

“I had a boyfriend there. We spent the whole summer together. It was really sad when we had to leave each other. 

“In another life, I was absolutely Irish. There’s no question. I think I was an Irish male balladeer. That’s what I think.

“My favourite artist continues to be Glen Hansard, he has been for some time. I really feel his music allowed me to heal when I was in that dark place. I listened to it so frequently. Him, as well as Hozier: There’s a certain type of Irish music I gravitate towards. It’s contemporary but it has that heritage and that sensitivity to the poetry that you guys are so great at.

“There are songs on this record that really do nod to the time I spent in Ireland and every time I’ve gone over there, it’s been such an inspiring and soulful experience. I can’t wait to get back there.”

The United States is the country that has been hit hardest by Covid-19 with over 100,000 deaths so far.

President Trump has come in for much criticism and you can’t help but think a less divisive leader would inspire more confidence in such uncertain times.

US President Donald Trump

“It’s devastating. Unfortunately, what you just said about him being so not well liked, while that’s true there’s still this whole portion of the US that does like him and continues to grasp onto whatever ideals they have about him, unfathomably. 

“I don’t know what it could possibly take more than his mismanagement of this crisis to convince people not to follow him, not to support him. Whatever that is, it hasn’t happened yet. All we can do is try to share facts and information and insight and news that hopefully informs voters to do the right thing in November and help us get away from this perilous situation in this government. 

“It’s so hard to even wrap our heads around it anymore that people continu to support him. We just don’t understand it and the only explanation for it is how much hate and xenophobia and bias there still is in our society. It’s heartbreaking. But I think all of these worldwide protests on behalf of those  who have been murdered by police brutality are so heartening and inspiring, the way that countries all around the world are standing up for the rights of our citizens is incredible.”

The album Character is out on 24 July. The single Blue Sky Days is out now. 

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