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    The Olympics of Gay Singing

    By Sam Brondfield, MD, MAEd–

    (Editor’s Note: Ka Lau and his partner Cameron Gerhold signed consent forms to have their names used in this article.)

    Dear Ka,

    I miss you, my friend.

    We met in the hospital during my first week attending on the UCSF inpatient oncology service. You were 28, not much younger than I, and you had a cough that wouldn’t go away. The cause was a large tumor in your chest with a small number of lung metastases.

    You introduced yourself: “I’m a singer in the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.”

    “No way!” I exclaimed. “I’m planning to audition for them next week.”

    You smiled and explained how important the chorus was to you. I asked a few more chorus-related questions before steering the conversation back to your health.

    I told you that we would start chemotherapy right away because the cancer was pushing on your heart. I explained that for this type of tumor, a mixed germ cell tumor with a large teratoma component, you would ultimately need surgery. You smiled and said you trusted me.

    One week later, you had finished the first dose of chemotherapy. I entered your hospital room for my daily visit and saw you struggling to breathe as the tumor continued to encroach on your heart. I followed you to the ICU, where nurses and respiratory therapists raced to save your life.

    That night, before you were intubated, you squeezed my hand and wished me luck in the chorus audition. I pondered the situational irony. You might not survive to rejoin the chorus you loved, and your oncologist was auditioning to join the same group.

    Sitting in the audition, I felt despondent. I wondered if the 300 chorus members knew what was happening to you. But I did not wonder long. The chorus president soon stood up in front of the room and, weeping, described your condition. Contagious sobs throughout the room coalesced into a wave of love that I hoped would wash over you.

    With support from your chorus family and the ICU team, your condition stabilized. “I heard you got into the chorus!” you exclaimed when you were able to speak again. “Yep, and I’m hoping you’ll join us soon,” I replied. But despite more chemotherapy, scans showed tumor growth.

    The next step was a complicated surgery, for which you had to fly to New York. Your devoted partner, Cameron, called me afterwards. The tumor was out! The lung metastases would require a second surgery after more chemotherapy, but I breathed a sigh of relief. Cure was still possible.

    After returning to San Francisco, you and Cameron took me to your favorite restaurant in the Castro. “How’s your recovery going?” I asked. “I’m getting stronger every day,” you replied. You hoped to rejoin the chorus in time for the upcoming (Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses) GALA Festival, an international gathering of LGBTQIA+ choruses occurring every four years that some called “the Olympics of gay singing.” I hoped to experience these Olympics alongside you.

    Back in the hospital, we embraced. Your scans showed only slight growth in the lung metastases. It was time for the last dose of chemotherapy. “Let’s do it,” you said. All was going according to plan.

    That is, until the next set of scans showed accelerated growth. Your liver was now speckled with cancer, and a tumor was growing inside your heart. A liver biopsy demonstrated sarcoma, a feared transformation of germ cell tumors. As I reviewed the biopsy result, I slumped at my computer. Cure was no longer possible.

    You otherwise could have made it to the Olympics of gay singing, but the COVID-19 pandemic cruelly postponed the GALA Festival beyond your reach. When the cancer marched on despite our best efforts, you flew to Hawaii to spend the last weeks of your life surrounded by family and friends. The last time we spoke, you called to sing me “Happy Birthday.”

    Sometimes circumstances push the doctor-patient relationship beyond the traditional boundaries. You were my patient, my friend, and my “chorus brother.” As I grieve, I take comfort knowing that a community of gay singers, one that I now share, will keep you in their hearts. I will always remember your smile and your beautiful voice.

    My partner and I visited Hawaii soon after what would have been your 30th birthday. We took Cameron, who still lives there, out for dinner and dancing. We laughed, cried, and reminisced. You would have loved it.

    We discussed how the chorus navigated the pandemic by posting video performances, some of which received homophobic comments recently. Your resilience in the face of illness inspired the chorus, and me, to move forward with love despite online hate. You would have been proud.

    When the Olympics of gay singing finally happens, I’ll imagine you standing next to me, where you belong, singing your heart out.

    Love,
    Sam

    Sam Brondfield, MD, MAEd, is a hospital-based oncologist at the University of California, San Francisco and a member of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.


    San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus ‘Fifth Section’

    Whenever the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus (SFGMC) sings, they do so for their brothers who are no longer with us. Over 300 such members of the Chorus—known as the Fifth Section—have been lost to us over the years, many as a result of HIV/AIDS. Their names are memorialized in SFGMC’s concert programs and in the list below. Their spirit lives on and SFGMC honors their memory.

    Jim Aiken • Skip Aiken • Jeff Alons • Paul Alsbach • Terry Althoff • Miles Scott Amen • Steve Amos • Paul Anelli • John Atteridg • Edwin Barlow • Crawford Barton • Craig Beachler • Robert Beale • Glenn Beardsley • Jerry Berg • Marion Besco • Sam Bittner • Kristen Bjoernfeld • Bill Blake • Allan Blasdale • John Andre Bonnemaison • Jeff Bortin • Edward Brener • Larry Brenner • Peter Brockhoff • John Brown • John Brown • John Bryant • Jay Burwick • John Cailleau • Chris Campbell • Jack Campbell • Scott Campbell • Duncan Campbell Jr. • Nello Carlini • Terry Carlson • Albert Carter • John Cashman • Bud Castleman • Marc Chapa • Mark Chapa • Bruce Chelini • Al Cherry  • Ailexsis Gregory Chew • Bob Chinen • C. Brian Christianson • Andrew Chrystall • Michael Clarke • Kevin Conduff • Richard Connelly • Leonard Conner • Bob Connett • Gregory Cooper • Jimmy Corbett • Jeff Cothran • Clayton Cowan • John Crimen • Mark Crissey • Tim Curbo • Mark D’Angelo • Alan Da Cunzo • Bobby Darnell • David Davenport • Robert del Valle • Walt Dennis • Douglas Dickinson • Bob Dinsmore • Scott Dowdee • Tom Doyle • Brian Duckworth • Andy Einkauf • Alan Ellis • Patrick Elvander • Bob Emery • Stephen Eschenbach • Robert Espindola • Gary Falardeau • Jim Farmer • Michael Farrell • Frank Federico • Keith Fenton • Bruce Fetherolf • Clif Fields • Steven Filice • Justin Fingado • Brian Finnegan • Wyrant Flonory • Fredrick Floyd • Ted Foster • Mark Fotopoulos • David Fox • David Smith Fox • Jon Franck • Jim Franks • John French • Robert Frey • Evan Friedman • Stephen Frugoli • Scott Galuteria • Larry Garrigan • Gary Garrison • Perry George • Don Giberson • Keith Gockel • David Gooding •  Bill Graham • Philip Graham • Larry Griffin • Gordon Grover • Tom Gschwind • Gene Guenther • Dean Halsey • Andy Hammond • Dr. Mark L. Hamner • Dennis Haney • Jerry Haney • Robert Hawk • Greg Hay • Frank Hecker • David Held • Mark Hermes • Paul Hernandez • Charles Herrington • Robert Hichborn • Tom Hickey • Mark Hirano • Rexford Hitchcock • Greg Holbrook • Richard Hollenbaugh • Jerry Horsting • Roger Hostetler • Clyde Howell • Douglas Jackson • Frank Jackson • Keith Jacobsen • David James • Scott Johnson • Albert Jones • Paul Jones • Mike Joyce • Keith Kamrath • Robin Kay • Carl Kimball • Lester King • Rick Kirkham • Diane Kohne Schuster • John Kovach • Tony Kramedes • Dick Kramer • John Krause • Thom Kumorek • Ka Lau • Greg Lawrance • Joe Leary • Kevin Lenzen • Jeff Lettow • Don Levine • Bill Lewandowski • Ed Lichtenstein • Gerry Lo Presti • Frank Lobraico • Wayne Love • Joseph Loza • Ed Lucas • John Lusk • Roger Luttrell • Michael MacDonald • Darren MacGavin • John MacKintosh • Mike Maguire • Terence Maguire • Jim Mahony • Renny Marinaccio • Gerry Marquis • Gerald Martin • Mickey Martin • Steve Martin • Tom Martin • Leonard Matlovich • Roy McConahay • Steve McDowell • John McFarland • Mike McGavren • Tony McIntosh • Michael McIntyre • John McLeod • Pipo Micheli • Allen Midkiff • Glen Miller • Kevan Miller • Mark Mousseau • Ed Munoz • Jim Murnan • Craig Neeley • Gary Newcomb • Al Nichols • Gregg Nicholson • Dennis Niswander • Ken Noble • David Norton • Ryan Nunez • Floyd Ohler • James Onion • Garry Osborne • Tom Pallerino • Nick Papadopoulos • Phil Pearce • Gerald Pearson • Chuck Pedersen • Roger Pelletier • John Perez • Norman Perry • Terry Peterson • Shane Petree • Rodger Pettyjohn • Donald Phillips • Harrison Pierce • George Piper • Orion Pitts • Brian Powdrill • Bill Powell • Terry Presley • Ted Printz • Steven Prokasky • Bill Pugh • Michael Pugh • Paul Pukas • Guy Rana • Lon Quentin Rand • Bill Randles • Douglas Randolph • Melvin Rebhahn • Robert Rekart • Bruce Reynolds • John Reynolds • John Riccardi • Cameron Robb • Jay Roberts • Jim Robison • David Keleikini Roddell • Marty Roddell • Bob Rogers • Steven Rohrer • Jon Rollins • Dave Romero • Regis Rosetta • Steven Rozell • Lane Ruoff • Jim Russell • Charlie Salumbides • Paul Sanchez • Patrick Santiago • Bill Schade • Steve Schmorr • Dan Schreiber • Frank Schumacher • Bob Scott • Roger Scroggs • Denny Sedgley • Neil Seymour • Ray Shanks • Dennis Shaw • David Shortridge • Lee Sierecki • George Silkworth • John Simo • Jon Sims • Tom Sims • Barry Singer • Fred Skau • Hal Slate • Rick Slavsky • Ted Smith • Scott Smitherum • Vince Sofia • Dale Sorensen • Scott Squires • Jay Stinson • Jerry Stokes • Audie Stoufflet • Steve Sutherland • Burleigh Sutton • Timothy Tafoya • John Tallerino • Mike Tallmadge • Gregg Tallman • Joseph Taro • Lance Taylor • Chuck Thayer • David Thomas • Lavoy Thompson • David Thormann • Robert Thrower • Eric Tiffany • Bill Toner • Jack Torres • John Trojanski • Bill Tucker • Richard Vincent • Daryl Wagner • Karl Walker • David Warrior • Samuel Weaver • Robert Weinand • Leroy Westbrook • Jimmy White • Mark Whiting • Larry Whitlock • Gary Wilson • Ric Wilson • Aaron Wimmer • Gary Wintermeyer • Jim Wolfe • Michael Wolford • Eric Worden • Douglas Wright • Jim Wright • Claude Zetty • Jim Zielinski 

    If you know of anyone whose name has inadvertently been omitted from this list, please let SFGMC know by calling the chorus office at 415-865-3650 or contacting the chorus via email ( info@sfgmc.org ) so that SFGMC may add them to their Fifth Section and continue to celebrate and honor the contributions of all their members.

    https://www.sfgmc.org/welcome/

    Published on September 23, 2021