When I was nineteen I developed a massive goiter. They never did find out why this happened to me, but in my second semester of my freshman year of college, I spent a week at KU Medical Center and additional time at the local hospital in my hometown. On April Fool’s Day, which was also my mom’s birthday, my doctor removed over half of my thyroid gland and two of my parathyroid glands. That afternoon he removed my mother’s hemorrhoids. Not the happiest of birthdays for her.

At the time I didn’t know about the importance of the thyroid but people made sure to send me the Reader’s Digest containing the article called “I Am Joe’s Thyroid.” And all these years later I can tell you it’s been quite roller coaster because it’s a really important gland.

What I also didn’t know was that I would not be able to sing for a year. Not being able to sing was devastating. I had a full vocal music scholarship and that surgery changed everything. The financial aid office was able to help me find academic scholarships, but singing had been such a huge part of my identity. In fact, until I leaned that the name Carmen came from the same Latin word as choir and choral, I hated my name.My three sisters had typical 1950s names. But Carmen was radically different than Debbie, Diane, and Patricia and for a log while I wanted normal name. At some point I called myself Sally. But learning that my name meant song changed everything. And then there was no song. Who was I without my voice?

Back then Karen Carpenter was my hero. My twin brothers who are seven years younger came to the hospital the of my surgery. I can still see Merrill, or maybe it was Michael, holding a flat, brown bag. They had spent their own money on a gift for me. That gift was something I wish I still had but it has been lost for many years after many moves. But I can still their faces and I remember that feeling of hope when I opened the bag.

They had gone to the little music store downtown and bought me a copy of “Sing”, one of Karen Carpenter’s songs. I don’t know what inspired them because I don’t play piano, but I held on to the thought that one day I would be able to sing again.

My hair fell out, many pounds changed my body, and I ended up with thirteen cavities that year because of the parathyroid removal. I broke several bones because of the calcium deficiency. A year later I was able to audition and get into every choir in college. Instead of being a soprano I had to get used to being an alto and I had to sing harmony and I learned that I love being a second alto.

In 2015 we were in a life-changing car wreck. Concussion. Visual hallucinations. Traumatic brain injury. Intractable migraines. And once again I could not sing. This time it was the migraines, the sensitivity to sound, the inability to follow the notes. And so I sat out rehearsals and cried through concerts. That first Christmas concert my doctor came with me and I cried so hard that he suggested an antidepressant. I knew this loss of singing was something I had to get through, but not with drugs. And so I grieved, I worked hard at getting better, rejoined the Hawaii Vocal Ensemble, and got through two seasons before moving to Oshkosh and joining the Oshkosh Chamber Singers.

I have lived a big, messy life. This year will mark fifty years since my thyroid surgery. I don’t have the same voice, the same body, not even the same teeth. But, throughout it all, I have had music. Prince was right when he said, “Music is healing. Music holds things together.” ― Prince