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Austin singer: 'Cancer's made me a better person'

Network - Fall 2013

By Mary Brolley


Christine Butterfield and band mate Michael Stevens

If cancer treatment is a journey, Christine Butterfield’s began with a wild ride.

First there was the headache from hell.

“It wouldn’t quit. And then I started vomiting,” Butterfield recalls. “I wanted to cut my head off.”

This was New Year’s Eve of 2007, when Butterfield, then 32, was on vacation with her family in Breckenridge, Colo.

The splitting headache and nausea forced a trip to the nearest emergency room, but it didn’t have the necessary imaging equipment. She was advised to go to another hospital.

Winter storms had closed roads and grounded the medical helicopter, so she endured a harrowing ambulance ride. When she arrived, a CT scan showed a large mass on her right frontal lobe. The doctor advised her to see a neurologist in Denver.

“The doctor in Denver said it looked like cancer, but that I needed a biopsy to find out,” Butterfield says. “He recommended I find a place where I had support. My family lives in Houston, and MD Anderson was the first hospital I thought of.”

A few days later, she and her husband Matt met Ganesh Rao, M.D., associate professor in Neurosurgery. Rao advised surgery to remove Butterfields’ tumor — an anaplastic astrocytoma — as soon as possible.

The couple drove home to Austin to prepare.

Their family and friends mobilized. Butterfield’s book club called an emergency meeting. No book was discussed, but concern and camaraderie were plentiful.

One friend gave each of the members a long-burning candle to light during Butterfield’s upcoming surgery.

“It was a tidal wave — an outpouring — of love and support, ” she says.

After the successful 11-hour surgery, Butterfield went through radiation and many rounds of chemotherapy.

Thinking of her then-toddler daughter Dylan kept her going during the difficult early days, Butterfield says.

She was determined to focus on the positive.

“I concentrated on framing my chemo and radiation treatments as therapeutic,” she says.

Life after surgery, treatment

For the most part, Butterfield has resumed her busy life.

She takes a daily dose of Accutane, and experiences a few side effects, such as dry skin and fatigue.

She’s also returned to her singing career, performing in Austin and beyond.

She wowed 500 guests at the Cancer Survivorship Conference in September, performing classics “I’ve Got Nothin’ but the Blues,” “As Time Goes By” and “Fly Me to The Moon.”

Her disarming sense of humor is always in evidence, even when reflecting on her cancer journey.

“I used to dress up for all my appointments at MD Anderson,” she says. “I wanted them to try extra hard on me.”

“I’ve gotten a bit more relaxed.”

“Having cancer has been a struggle and a challenge. I told myself, ‘I’ll learn from this. I’ll allow it to make me a better person.’”

In the six years since her diagnosis, she’s gotten used to friends and acquaintances who don’t know what to say about the fact that she’s living with brain cancer.

“Here’s how I’m sometimes introduced at parties: ‘This is Christy… she’s superwoman’… then they whisper, ‘brain cancer,’” she laughs.

“It doesn’t bother me. If you’ve got the cancer card, you might as well use it.”

“Just live each day, enjoy each day.”

Christine Butterfield is a member of the Anderson Network patient matching program. To join, call 713-792-2553 or 800-345-6324.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center