New York, NY – A New York’s woman’s musical tribute to her 29-year-old brother who died of a rare cancer in January is now being sold on iTunes to benefit cancer research.
Proceeds from Lis Garassino’s original song, “Hush, Baby,” in memory of her brother Joe, will benefit the Cancer Research Institute, a nonprofit organization based in New York City dedicated to harnessing the power of the immune system to conquer all cancers.
Garassino was inspired to write the lyrics for “Hush, Baby” after her brother was diagnosed with Stage IV cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer), on June 15, 2012. After a brief and devastating illness, Joe passed away on January 20th. Joe received treatment for his cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of NYC and at St. Vincent’s Elizabeth M. Pfriem SWIM Center for Cancer Care of Bridgeport, CT.
About Joe’s Song, “Hush, Baby”
On January 2nd, as Lis Garassino and her family prepared to leave St. Vincent's Medical Center of Bridgeport, CT, to take Joe Garassino of Stamford, CT home to hospice care, the nurses told her she would be riding in the ambulance, too. Lis would be responsible for carrying her brother’s supply of morphine. A hospice nurse would be waiting at their home in Middlebury, CT.
When Lis learned Joe was going home that day, she messaged her friend Olya, (Olga Kisseleva) a Moscow-born musician. Only a few days earlier, Lis had written the lyrics of a song for Joe, and Olya had read them and agreed to write the music over the next few weeks. Things had changed. Lis now needed Joe’s song as soon as possible. That night, through her tears, Olya created the music and recorded "Hush, Baby." By early morning on January 3rd, Lis had a copy of "Hush, Baby" to play for her brother.
Joe loved the song and told Lis, “Put it on a thumb drive for me, quick!" not realizing that she would never leave his side. Joe passed away peacefully at home a few weeks later.
For more on Joe's story, see: http://connectwithjoe.blogspot.com
By purchasing Joe's song, "Hush, Baby," you are helping advance a cure for all cancers.
About the Cancer Research InstituteThe Cancer Research Institute (CRI), established in 1953, is the world’s only nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to transforming cancer patient care by advancing scientific efforts to develop new and effective immune system-based strategies to prevent, diagnose, treat, and eventually cure all cancers. Guided by a world-renowned Scientific Advisory Council that includes three Nobel laureates and 29 members of the National Academy of Sciences, CRI has invested more than $225 million in support of research conducted by immunologists and tumor immunologists at the world’s leading medical centers and universities, and has contributed to many of the key scientific advances that demonstrate the potential for immunotherapy to change the face of cancer treatment. To learn more go to: http://www.cancerresearch.org
On January 2, 2013, as we prepared to leave St. Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport, CT to take my brother, Joe, 28, home to hospice care, the nurses told me I would be riding in the ambulance, too. I would also be responsible for carrying Joe's supply of morphine. A hospice nurse would be waiting at our home in Middlebury with my aunt, ready to set-up Joe's PCA pump with the morphine. During the ride home, an EMT would administer medication as necessary to relieve my brother's incredible pain. We had a plan and we were ready to bring Joe home.
When I learned Joe was going home, I immediately messaged my friend, Olya, to see if she could help. Only a few days earlier, I had written these lyrics for Joe. Olya, a Moscow-born musician, had read my lyrics and agreed to work on making them into a song over the next few weeks. Things had changed. I now needed the song as soon as possible. That night as Olya cried, she created the music and recorded "Hush, Baby." By early morning on January 3, 2013, I had a copy of "Hush, Baby" to play for Joe.
Joe loved his song and said, "Lis, put it on a thumb drive for me, quick!" not realizing that I would never leave his side. Joe passed away peacefully in our home on January 20, 2013.
Joe's death came fast and brutally. On June 15, 2012, he had been diagnosed with Stage IV cholangiocarcinoma, (bile duct cancer). By purchasing Joe's song, "Hush, Baby" on iTunes, you are helping advance cures for all cancer. All net proceeds go directly to the Cancer Research Institute (CRI), the leading organization for new research, vaccines and treatments that seek to eradicate all forms of cancer.
One day, you wake up and stop for a moment. Just for a moment. You realize your life is crammed with new words. Maybe you find happy words like fiancee, newborn, grandchild. Or perhaps you find words filled with promise yet uncertainty - college applications, financial aid, early admission, letters of acceptance. Maybe there are frightening words like depression or job loss. And for some of us, words of reward will join our lists - award, letter of appreciation and exemplary review. The vocabulary of our lives keeps growing and growing.
The vocabulary of my life keeps growing and growing. I am struck by all the new words that have become part of my life over these last months. Words I had known, but now I own.
One day in June 2012, the vocabulary of my life exploded wide-open.
"Mom, I have a malignant tumor."
My world stopped turning. I would be forever changed.
Listening to the surgeon who diagnosed my son Joe, I found the vocabulary to ask the questions to which I dreaded to hear the answers.
Over the next months, my vocabulary kept expanding to include words I had known, but never dreamed would apply to any child of mine - Stage IV, metastatic cancer, terminal diagnosis. Words like oncologist, chemotherapy, radiation, cholangiocarcinoma. The list, always swelling— Port-A-Cath, nausea, pain management, kyphoplasty.Kyphoplasty? "A spinal procedure in which bone cement is injected through a small hole in the skin into a fractured vertebra with the goal of relieving back pain caused by a vertebral compression fracture..."
Some words, words I had used and thought I knew well took on new meaning in my life: Love. Hope. Family. Friends.
And as the months ticked by, more words joined the lexicon — palliative care, prayer shawl, hospice, sorrow, grief, bereavement and gratitude. Yes, gratitude.
On a sweltering day less than a month after Joe’s diagnosis, I saw the words in big black letters, Chemotherapy Suite. When my strapping 28 year-old son should have been in his air-conditioned office in Stamford closing some big deal, he would be receiving his first chemotherapy at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. But there we were with Joe's big sister, Lis walking right beside him, always right beside ever ready to offer her love and support.
No mother could ask for more. To have your children love one another. How could gratitude not join my list?
Joe's life was shorter than some and longer than others, but I’m comforted that his life had great meaning and impacted many people. Joe acted with extraordinary grace during his last months on this earth. On another summer afternoon, Joe and I sat visiting with Josh, Joe's good friend. In just a few hours, Josh and Erin's wedding would take place at sunset on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in Jamestown, RI. As we enjoyed our bottle of wine, Joe turned to Josh and said quietly, "Josh, it's about to be forever..." And Josh's broad smile in reply would have lit a marquis in Times Square. Joe's illness destroyed his body, but it never changed his big heart.
The vocabulary list of my life is long. There are sections which I wish I could erase. Just as there are words I would not trade for anything. As Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, "Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all."
Look at the lexicon of your life. Make sure the most important words lead your list, too.
Angels walk on earth.
I know their names and recognize their faces.
Some are petite and graceful;
others are strong and able to lift and carry.
I've learned that no one has to walk in my shoes to know my experience.
I need someone to stand, shoulder to shoulder, and hold me up when I can hardly stand
It takes a village to raise a child,
and, a village to help one die.
Someone once said to me, "What's it all matter?"
as if nothing does.
“Love matters!” is what I shout from the mountaintop.
Do you ever have a soundtrack playing in your dreams?
I do. Not always, but sometimes. Over the last few days, I have awakened several mornings to the sound of Amazing Grace playing on the jukebox of my mind. It's been powerful.
I love that hymn! I would sing it in the house when the children were young. I sang it in the early morning hours at St. Vincent's Medical Center where I would quickly grab a shower in the 9th floor shower room before the doctors rounded. I sang it in my home over the last few weeks. And, again in First Church on the 23rd of January joined by the voices of my family and friends.
But today? The speakers in my mind played a different song, loudly and clearly...
"Joy to the world
All the boys and girls now
Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea
Joy to you and me"
Yes, I'm dating myself now with a song made famous by the band, Three Dog Night. A song described by the band members as a "kid's song" and a "silly song". A song that hit #1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart in 1971.
But a joyful, happy song for sure.
And as I woke this morning, I thought to myself, I do wish joy to the world. And to all the boys and girls who became the young men and women who came to pay honor to their dear friend Joe, my son. Thank you.
We will feel Joe's impact and love forever.
"Where you stand, where you are, that's what your life is right there, regardless of how painful it is or how enjoyable it is. That's what it is." - Taizan Maezumi
Love to all,
We came together this morning in a beautiful church filled with music and voices and fragrant, exquisite flowers. These are the words I spoke...
We come here to celebrate Joe’s life. And, as painful as that may be for each one of us, we come together to honor Joe and to talk about how much we love him.
Joe had tremendous grace. Who can imagine being told at 28 your life will end soon? But Joe met that news with courage and grace. He wrote in his journal, “The feeling of having to shelve dreams and goals. It’s tough, but I can do this, staying strong. What is life worth if everything else is gone?”
That’s a question Joe began to answer by the way he lived. One day, coming out of St. Vincent’s, he said, “Mom, you always told me I had to live every day. I just didn’t know I’d have to do it so soon.”
When Lis and Joe were small children, the occasional Saturday night sleepover at Gabby and Grandpa’s would take place. A small bedroom with two twin beds, one close to the door and the other against the far wall would be made up for them. Lis would say to Joe every time, “Can I have the bed by the door? You know I will be scared if I can’t sleep by the door…”
And Joe, his reply? “OK, you can have it.” Even at a young age, Joe wanted to take care of his big sister. In October of 2012, Lis would leave New York for Connecticut to help Joe. “Mom, I can get another job, but I can’t get another brother. I think it’s time for me to come home.”
We all did whatever it took to help Joe, whether it was sending chocolates and candy, dropping off chicken cutlets and homemade chicken noodle soup or making the best cookies and Tiramisu imaginable. Joe’s dad Michael made sure his interest in sports was indulged, from getting him tickets to Yankees games to hanging out and watching sports at home to providing an all out Labor Day Weekend bash to rival none. We all hung with Joe.
With all the doctor’s appointments, tests and treatments, Joe wanted to make plans for fun. While we waited for the cancer to be staged, we went to Cape Cod. Once it was determined that the cancer had metastasized, we went to Big Sur, then Puerto Rico for Josh’s bachelor week-end and then to Rhode Island for Josh’s wedding to Erin, then to Maine with Dad and stepmom Denise and Lis and Sarah. We made multiple trips to New York City where we dined in wonderful restaurants and tiny holes in the walls when Joe’s treatment was done. This Thanksgiving we traveled to Florida to Lou and Mary’s lovely home in Ft. Lauderdale and stayed in high style at the Ritz.
One of the best decisions we made was an adoption. Joe had been thinking about getting a dog. One day when we were sipping smoothies and having a pedicure Joe told me he wanted a French bull dog. Not many people would take on a new puppy in such dire circumstances, but somehow it seemed worth the risks. Miraculously, Denise’s sister Lisa found a breeder near Buffalo, and we flew up in a tiny plane to meet a wonderful puppy. “The name has to be something deep,” Joe said, “because I’m going through something deep.” Thus we have Mia. Joe had someone to nurture, his friends had something to share, and I had an opportunity to see what a wonderful father he might have been.
"Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength; loving someone deeply gives you courage." That was the quote on my Zen calendar the day that Joe’s cancer was staged. “I really like that one, Mom,” he said. “That’s a good one.” And so it was.
A therapist who works with moms whose children have cancer, said to me in June, “Everyone who loves Joe is affected by his cancer. Everyone feels it. Joe just has the physical disease.”
I asked Joe’s friend Josh if he had any thoughts to share.
“How could I possibly encompass M. Joseph Garassino’s character in words?” he said. “Those that truly know him will agree that the task is impossible. But Joe, in a single word, was a lover.”
“Joe loved life, his family, his friends, laughter, and he truly loved to love. Joe loved working hard and playing harder whether he was travelling, partying in NYC clubs, dining at 5 Star restaurants, attending or simply supporting NY sports. Joe loved the finer things in life like fashion, watches, cigars, cocktails, and cars. He loved being a chivalrous gentleman, a fighter and a competitor, a teacher, a mentor, a businessman, a loyal and generous friend, a nephew, a cousin, a brother, a son, and a grandson, too. The love Joe shared was kind, fair, helpful, hopeful, strong, courageous, and exemplified best throughout his last months, inspirational.”
One day last week, Joe needed a new bed. Once it was assembled, Lis, his Aunt Dee and I tried to help him stand and pivot into it. It immediately became apparent that Joe was too weak to stand. Luckily, Uncle Mike drove across town to the rescue. Even though he was in incredible pain, ever the Italian-Lithuanian gentleman, Joe reached out to shake Mike’s hand as he approached.
In a gentle bear hug, Mike wrapped his arms around Joe and lifted him to the bed. As his uncle turned to leave, Joe in his now softer, less strong voice called to him, “Thanks, Mike.”
The last few weeks were a sacred time for all of us. So many of you contributed deeds and words of kindness, I cannot mention every one, but some moments stand out. We celebrated Joe’s 29th birthday on January 5th with his close friends and our family. Ready, able and willing to do absolutely anything to help, Joe’s friends came to quietly visit. If we could measure a man’s worth by the quality of the friends he keeps, then Joe’s wealth was immeasurable.
Even as he lay in bed, his body racked with pain, sometimes with tears gently streaming from the corners of his eyes, Joe responded to our presence. He acknowledged Denise when she brought his beloved Mia to visit. He gave his Aunt Dee a wink and a thumbs up when she brought me a beverage at his bedside. When his cousin Erin kissed him goodbye and turned to leave, he asked, “Do you need me to walk you out to your car?”
He remembered to say, “Thank you, Jan,” every 15 minutes as Janet pushed the medication pump during her midnight to 4 am shift. Armed with her iPhone timer,his cousin Brittany helped keep watch. When I asked if Brittany could help me and deliver the medication on her own, he responded, “Brittany’s great. She knows exactly what she’s doing.”
As many of you know, my older sister, Lynn, died in August of lymphoma. Joe never indulged in self-pity, but one day he said to me, “I never thought I would be joining Lynn at Sloan to have treatment for cancer. Who would have ever thought? Mom, I hardly know anyone who has ever had cancer, let alone anyone young, who has cancer.”
Lis has taken for her work building awareness and support for other young people who must cope with their siblings’ cancer as she has. I think Josh speaks for each of us when he says, “Please continue to remember and recount Joe’s love; I know he’d truly, love that…”
And in the words of Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, “Now abideth faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."
"Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength; loving someone deeply gives you courage."
This quote was from my daily Zen calendar on June 15, 2012. The day we received news that Joe's cholangiocarcinoma was Stage IV. I found these inspiring words upon our return home from Cape Cod on June 16th. I showed the small slip of paper containing this powerful message to Joe:
Joe remarked, "I really like that one, Mom. It's a good one."
Remember this... Joe loved all of us so very much.
We will smile through our tears this week as we celebrate Joe and his wonderful life...
"In the end these things matter most: How well did you love? How fully did you love? How deeply did you learn to let go?"
Super early on a hot, summer day, I loaded Joe's big, black, (bad), Audi A6 with all our gear: laptops, iPads, a cooler packed with Gatorade, Ensure and water, Joe's messenger bag, my crossbody one, medications, a brown canvas duffel dog carrier, (a bright orange service dog vest, dog food, collapsible bowls, chew toys, doogie poop bags), and one big-hearted, little French bulldog puppy.
Go with joy wherever you go.
Joe was slightly apprehensive the night before his visit to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, (MSKCC). Not because of the upcoming chemo treatment, but because Joe was concerned about bringing Miss Mia into Manhattan to 53rd Street where we would spend a very long day. We had come up with a plan: Lis was to meet us in the lobby and spend the entire day at MSKCC. Sarah would come later in the afternoon to sit in the chemo treatment suite and keep us company or run errands.
Ever the businessman that we know Joe to be, Joe wanted to go over the details. I figured we had a back-up plan: If worst came to worst, and the pup proved to be too much work, I had Lis and Sarah to help us. Joe agreed, although I think a part of him thought to himself, "This is a little crazy."
Lis, too had expressed her concerns to me on July 15th...
Lis: "Mom, are you going to call the hospital and ask if we can bring the dog?"
Lis: "Don't you think it would be a good idea to call someone and ask if it's ok?"
Lis, in her ever persistent way ..."So, why don't you think it's good idea? Do you know if it's allowed? Don't you think you should call someone and ask? Why not?"
Me: "I might not like the answer I get."
Lis: "So, you don't think you should ask before you bring the dog to New York City?"
Me: "Nope. I'm going to bring the dog everywhere we want and keep doing it until someone tells me, No."
Joe was definitely wondering if this was going to work and on the evening of July 16th...
Joe: "Mom, I don't know if it's a good idea to bring the dog. I'm afraid it's going to be too much. It might be too hard."
Me: "No, I think it will be OK. But, if you think it's better to have someone watch her, I bet we could get Lisa to watch her. I can call if you'd feel better."
Joe: "No, I think it's too late."
Me: "No, it's not. I can call. They want to help. They tell me, "Anything you need."
Joe: "But, what if we can't bring the dog in? What are we going to do?"
Me: "We will figure it out. That's why I have Lis and Sarah coming. We will have help."
And, on July 17th, Lis asked Joe...
Lis: "Joe, what are you going to say if someone asks you about the dog?"
Joe: "I'm going to say, I have Stage IV cancer and I get a little anxious sometimes. This dog helps calm my anxiety."
Going home to Stamford later that summer evening, Joe would say to me, "Mom, it was a good thing to bring Mia. It was the right idea." Bringing Mia that summer day really did bring Joe great comfort and joy. Many of us have come to witness Joe's love for his Mia.
And on another drive home to Connecticut one evening, I would remark to Joe, "We have had some real fun this summer, in between all this serious shit we are going through, haven't we?"
And Joe's smile in reply will light my heart forever.
On June 1, 2002, Joe and I made tandem jumps over the beautiful rural landscape of Ellington, CT. A sunset jump into a brilliant, colorful sky with new beginnings for both of us. Joe would set off for Sacred Heart University a few months later and I would begin training to become a licensed skydiver.
Ten years later on June 1, 2012, Joe would call me on another sunny summer day to tell me he had incredible abdominal pain.
With skydiving there is no try. You either jump out of an airplane or you do not. Skydiving, as crazy of a sport as it may seem, teaches you one fundamental thing: You are responsible for your own life. Your own happiness. I am forever grateful to Joe for helping me learn this.
In the photo above, you can see Joe helping me as he fixes the booty of my jumpsuit as part of my gear check in preparation for my jump. As I look around our home, I see all these pictures of Joe with his friends and family. I am struck by how much Joe has helped each of us and loved all of us.
As Joe's illness progressed, we learned to help Joe in new ways. Lots of people continue to help Joe right now with prayers, sending love, and in practical ways, too.
I like the Yoda quote which begins this entry because I think of Joe. Joe has heart and is a "doer". You and I know it. Even at this most challenging time, Joe's spirit and Joe's courage shine, big time.
Yoda, the oldest of the Jedi was one of the most skilled light saber fighters and had a power to be reckoned with...
Ten years ago, Joe sent me this email as I packed my gear to head to Skydive Sebastian in Florida to attend a week long training camp sponsored by Skydive University.
I love him so! And, I know you do, too...
Subject: HAVE FUN
02/25/2003 03:53 PM
What's up MOM, sorry i havent been replying to your e-mails. I gotta start checkin it more. Im doing fine, just a little tired from pullin an all nighter for a philosophy test. I just heard this poem in Literature class and liked it a lot and thought you might.
Advice to My Son
-by Peter Meinke
The trick is, to live your days
as if each one may be your last
(For they go fast, and young men lose their lives
in strange and unimaginable ways)
but at the same time, plan long range
(For they go slow: if you survive
the shattered windshield and the bursting shell
you will arrive
at our approximation here below
of heaven or hell).
To be specific, between the peony and the rose
plant squash and spinach, turnips and tomatoes;
beauty is nectar
and nectar, in a desert, saves-
but the stomach craves stronger sustenance
than the honied vine.
Therefore, marry a pretty girl
after seeing her mother;
speak truth to one man,
work with another;
and always serve bread with your wine.
always serve wine.
I GUESS IT WOULD ALSO WORK CALLED ADVICE TO MY MOTHER. BUT HAVE THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE IN FLORIDA. BE SAFE. PULL ON TIME. BUCKLE UP. DON'T GET SUNBURNT. AND DONT FORGET TO HAVE FUN. LOVE, JOE
This is a journal that Lis gave to me in 2000. You can almost make out the title, embossed in silver letters: "beauty is on the inside."
You can see that Lis wrote a special message to me on the 1st page of my journal:
I use this journal to save special messages that I come across from time to time. Things to ponder and to teach me. I go back to this journal to find inspiration and solace.
These days this journal sits on the secretary in my living room. I leave a new page open every day. This morning, I stopped to admire all these photos of Joe and his friends that lay next to the book. I opened my journal and found a quote that could be the caption for all these fantastic photographs:
"When you meet someone who is truly great, he makes you believe you can be great, too..."
The following quote is the first one from this book which was my gift from Lis and Joe on Christmas morning.
"A mother's love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity, it dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path."
- Agatha Christie, writer
Unfortunately, I can not crush cancer.
But I would if I could and I know I would have an army standing behind me, helping.
Here is to all the mothers whose hearts celebrate with my heart and love my son, Joe like their own.
Words are inadequate to express my deep appreciation for all the love and support for my children, Lis and Joe. Support from moms, step moms and the men who love their women and children. And from the moms yet to be.
Dog biscuits by his bedside. As Joe's illness progressed, he could no longer bend to the floor to give his sweet Mia water. Or get out of bed to walk her or feed her. But Joe kept biscuits by his bedside. Right next to his meds for nausea and the never ending parade of Gatorade, water, soft drinks, and his favorite tea, Earl Grey.
I am not telling any one who knows Joe and calls him friend, anything new. Those who love Joe know his big heart.
We are blessed.
Joe rests quietly as I type and Lis keeps him quiet company. A peaceful air prevails filled with the spirit of all Joe's friends and family. We are connected.
Brittany, Joe, Mom, Dee, Holly, Erin, Hannah, Lindsey, Gabby, and Lis Dec '12
I sit here writing in the dark. It's just before sunrise. Actually, a time of day I've grown to love. The house is still quiet. No one is awake. The day has not begun. There is a gentle feeling in the air.
My sweet nieces framed this photo and gave it to Joe on his birthday two days ago. Joe and I were admiring it last evening. A beautiful photo, but just a part of the large family and circle of friends we are so lucky to have...
This week Joe spent a lovely New Years celebration at the hospital with friends and family before coming home. He is officially home now! And surrounded by so much love and support from the endless amount of friends and family visiting and spending time with him. Joey is extremely brave and we all love him very much.