Spencer Bohren isn’t going anywhere.
It’s an odd thing to look at the calendar and not see it speckled with names of far-off places where the New Orleans musician will go to thumb his guitar. But there’s a big reason he needs to stay put at the moment: He’s been diagnosed with stage IV prostate cancer that has metastasized to his bones.
The world first found out accidentally. When doctors told him earlier this year about what was making him achingly tired — the kind of tired that made getting around to all those far-flung gigs particularly difficult — he let some folks in Germany know why he was canceling a tour there. The news traveled, but Tuesday (Nov. 13) he and his wife, Marilyn Bohren, brought everyone else in on the thing they’ve been dealing with for a couple months. The reaction, including the financial kind, has been “overwhelming.”
“It was very moving, to be honest. We would have been a lot more private about it, but the truth is it was really touching to see the amazing outpouring,” Bohren said. “I can really feel the support more than I would ever have thought. It’s very palpable.”
When I called Bohren about the diagnosis, he said the last time he’d looked at the GoFundMe set up to help make ends meet while he’s not working, it was right at $6,000. I gave him the update that it was now north of $20,000.
“You’re kidding me,” he said, laughing. “That’s just going to make such a difference.”
Like anyone who’s self-employed, a musician facing the prospect of taking a year off, as Bohren intends to do, presents steep challenges.
“It’s not the same as everybody else’s job,” Bohren acknowledged. “It’s more of a calling.”
For now, Bohren and his wife are approaching his medical care with a holistic approach. Though he and Marilyn are posting some updates to their blog, they’re keeping many medical details close to the vest — getting sick has a way of eliciting lots of advice from folks — Bohren did say he’s found some success in changing up his diet.
“Caterpillar food” is what he calls it, but the point is clear: Don’t eat anything that cancer likes.
He’s also finding time to pick up the instruments laying around his house that don’t get much love when he’s on the road.
“Every one of those guitars is teaching me something,” Bohren said, marveling at the things he’s discovering while each note doesn’t serve any purpose other than to be heard. Nothing’s getting recorded. Nothing’s being rehearsed.
Still, there are a few things on the calendar that aren’t getting moved. Among them is a December show with Rory Danger and the Danger Dangers, and a March event at the Jazz and Heritage Foundation with the Whippersnappers. He’s also looking forward to returning to teach guitar at Fur Peace Ranch in south Ohio next spring. It works out to about a gig a month, a sharp decrease for this routine New Orleans performer.
“When I do come back onto the streets,” he said, “I’ll be ready.”
Chelsea Brasted is a columnist on the Latitude team at NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune. Latitude is a place to share opinions about the challenges facing Louisiana. Follow @LatitudeNOLA on Facebook and Twitter. Write to Chelsea at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call or text with story ideas, tips and complaints 225.460.1350.