A group of cancer doctors form a band to draw attention to women’s cancers. Two albums and a documentary later, their concerts are selling out.
Dr. Nimesh Nagarsheth is doing a lot of things right. He is a famed gynecologic oncologist and cancer surgeon at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. And he provided the driving beat for a sold-out rock concert last night by N.E.D.
It was a frenzy of electric rock, bluegrass-influenced acoustic, and funky R&B with sizzling guitar riffs, all created by six gynecologic oncologists. They are on a mission to save women’s lives with rock.
“We named the band for the three words every cancer doctor wants to tell his patients, and every cancer patient wants to hear: No evidence of disease,” Nagarsheth said. “We don’t get to say those words often enough. With N.E.D., we can raise awareness of women’s cancers. We want to get people talking about gynecologic cancer as openly as we talk about breast cancer.”
Gynecologic cancers strike the ovaries, uterus, cervix, vagina, and other parts of a woman’s reproductive system. The six doctors in N.E.D. treat diseases that affect about 90,000 women each year in the United States and kill about 30,000, Nagarsheth said. The band has produced two albums and is the subject of a 2013 documentary, “No Evidence of Disease.” Fans call themselves Nedheads.
“Dr. Nagarsheth helped me medically when I had a malignant sarcoma,” said former patient Michele Fabrikant. “I got to hear those words ‘no evidence of disease’ after my chemo was done.”
A generation ago, we whispered about breast cancer, and most women who had it died, she said. “Now we talk about breast cancer openly. Women get screened, breast cancer is found early, and they survive. We have to make that same change with other women’s cancers. It starts with awareness.”
N.E.D.’s music is seldom directly related to cancer. It draws on the deep emotions that doctors share with their patients and their common struggles with human relationships.
Nagarsheth didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming a famous cancer doctor. He wanted to be a rock star, a drummer.
“I’ve been in bands my entire life, in high school, in medical school, in residency,” he said. “There was no reason to stop making music.”
In 2008, Nagarsheth and five other gynecologic oncologists — Dr. John Boggess (guitar and vocals), Dr. Joanie Hope (guitar and vocals), Dr. Rusty Robinson (bass and harmonica), Dr. John Soper (guitar and mandolin), and Dr. Will Winter (lead guitar) — agreed to a gig at a medical meeting. What started out as a lark has grown into a second life.
“Music can help soothe the mind and the emotions, which can help heal the body,” he explained. “Sometimes it is not how much longer we can help you live, but how much better we can help you live. Music can change the journey.”
Photos courtesy of The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York