By Sarah Bello
To play the violin is to feel alive, says Kim Angelis, world-renowned violinist and North Coast resident.
As a professional violinist, she has performed throughout much of the United States, as well as South America, Asia and Africa. Her music was used by a Chinese gymnast in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and in films and ballets.
Becoming a violinist
“Playing the violin is what God wanted me to do,” Angelis says. “Many people struggle with finding their purpose in life, and I never had to. I’ve been very blessed that way.”
When she was a young child, Angelis’ mother said the violin was a beautiful instrument, and “that’s all it took,” Angelis says, to fall in love with playing. She spent her youth in San Francisco learning and growing, eventually attending college in Southern California and studying with members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
After college, she met and married her husband, Josef Gault, a guitarist. For years, the two played concerts together, traveling around the world. More than 15 years ago, they moved to Astoria.
“We performed here and just loved it,” Angelis says. “It took us a while, but we kept coming up here, so we moved.”
A major illness
The bliss they felt was unfortunately fleeting. In the past several years, one could say Angelis has been put through the wringer. Gault began to develop early onset dementia in 2011. The duo continued to perform, participating in a major festival tour of China in 2014, in addition to giving concerts and teaching school programs in Botswana.
“I found myself taking on more and more responsibilities as my husband’s abilities diminished,” she says. “When we traveled, he was utterly confused and often had no idea what town, state or country we were in. But on stage, everything was fine.”
That is, everything was fine until 2016, when Gault was officially diagnosed with dementia and audiences began to sense he was getting lost in the program. The two held their last concert together on May 15, 2016. Following that, Gault experienced a rapid decline. In April 2017, he was placed in a memory care community in Forest Grove, Oregon, where he still resides.
Angelis tried to regroup and played solo concerts occasionally. In December 2017, she began playing with a pianist and booked a few engagements in Oregon and Washington. On January 9, 2018, though, she was faced with another mountain to climb after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
“When I was presented with my schedule for chemotherapy, I asked for some changes so I could keep my concert commitments, and my oncologist assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem,” Angelis says. “I could keep performing during my treatment.”
She played a concert at the end of January, and on January 29, had a port inserted beneath her left clavicle. Her first round of chemo was in the next couple of weeks and went well. But soon after, she began experiencing difficulties. She anticipated playing violin for Ballet Fantastique’s performance of “Zorro” at the Hult Center in Eugene, Oregon, and needed to resume practicing.
“The next day, I put the violin under my chin. But I couldn’t play,” Angelis remembers. “My fingers fell between the strings. I had no vibrato, and the pain was excruciating. The catheter for the port was right where the shoulder rest is placed.”
Making matters worse, she ended up in the emergency room the following day with a blood clot above the port in her arm. Forced to cancel her upcoming performances, including “Zorro,” she began to be depressed. In 50 years of playing the violin, she had not gone more than two weeks without practicing.
After her final session of chemo in late May, her surgeon, appalled at how swollen her arm was still, recommended the port be taken out before her mastectomy. Within three days, she was playing the violin again. She played the entire week before her surgery. She recovered from that and prepped for radiation therapy a few weeks later.
Radiation in Astoria
“I clearly remember being on the phone with my insurance on a Friday, being told that I couldn’t have radiation treatment in Astoria. I was super upset — I think I was more upset about that than anything else,” Angelis says. “I spent the entire weekend in prayer. I was calm and called the insurance company again on Monday. They said, ‘At CMH? We can do that.’ I was so relieved and so grateful.”
For weeks, Angelis would get “zapped” at the Cancer Collaborative, go for a run with her dogs and then return home to practice. But without any concerts scheduled, she practiced less and less, feeling as if she had nothing to work for. The radiation techs noticed she was down, and Angelis soon had an unexpected appointment with Dr. Sahar Rosenbaum, CMH radiation oncologist.
Dr. Rosenbaum talked with her about her feelings and learned about all she had gone through with her husband and now with her cancer. She invited Angelis to play at the Cancer Collaborative.
“Immediately, the cloud was lifted off my spirit. That day, I went home and practiced with joy,” Angelis says, lighting up. “The final day of radiation, September 26, I celebrated by playing the violin in the lobby of the Cancer Collaborative. I only played two songs, but that was the first time I’d been able to share the music since January 26. It was a turning point for me.”
Finishing treatment and beginning to play again
Angelis began playing with her pianist colleague again and performed her first full-length concert since 2016 on December 2. She has started bringing her violin with her to visit her husband and give concerts to the residents at his memory care facility. He can still play a couple of songs with her, bringing him a feeling of self-worth, she says.
She hopes to play many more concerts soon and record a new CD in March. Before she is finished with treatment, she will have three immunotherapy infusions, but she is grateful to be having two of them at CMH.
“The Planetree difference is amazing,” Angelis says. “I never expected the radiation techs to notice I was depressed, and they did. That changed everything. I got to have one immunotherapy infusion here so far, and I felt like I was at a spa. Warm blanket, music playing, food in the refrigerator, hand massage, great view out the window. I’m almost looking forward to the next two.”
Late in 2018, Angelis was declared cancer-free. Her story, she says, isn’t finished, though. It’s still being written.
“I’d like to close this chapter with my sincere gratitude to Columbia Memorial Hospital and the CMH-OHSU Knight Cancer Collaborative for going the extra mile — caring for not just the patient’s body, but for the heart, mind and soul, as well.”
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