My name is Mari Isdale. I’m 39 years old and unfortunately living with stage 4 bowel cancer
For which I am receiving palliative chemotherapy.
Since my diagnosis I would wake up in the middle of the night in a panic, mind racing with
questions such as; do my loved ones know what I think of them?, how grateful am I to
them?, do they really know how much I love them?, what if I haven’t said it enough? It was
during one of these ‘2am moments’ that I desperately searched the internet about how to
leave legacies to loved ones in such circumstances and thankfully my search returned the
wonderful Swan Song Project.
It immediately caught my attention as such a unique and creative way to maybe express
some of my thoughts and feelings to my loved ones. The only problem was, I am in no way
musical. I have never played an instrument beyond maybe shaking a tambourine at a
childhood school play. Furthermore, I have never really sung outside of the car or my
shower and certainly never in front of a stranger. So, I honestly was a little bit sceptical how
anyone was ever going to be able to help me progress from having some vague ideas of
what I wanted to say into having a fully written and recorded original song. In addition, I was
a bit worried that perhaps I would find it in some way depressing or distressing.
The website plus the very reassuring and friendly Ben explained me that no previous musical
experience was required. That everyone has a unique way of expressing themselves and this
is what makes the songs great and with the right support everyone can do it. He was
confident supportive and caring. I felt in such safe hands that I decided to take a leap of
faith, put all my trust in the process and just see what happened.
Soon after I was introduced to Jamie the professional musician (or as I think may be a better
description the musical genius!). We had one-hour long sessions together over zoom which
took place weekly for about 4 weeks.
During the first session Jamie put me right at ease and spent time chatting with me to get to
know more about me and my family. Then we talked about the concepts, phrases and ideas
I wanted to convey in the song. Jamie was a great listener and had an intuitive way of
noticing things I said for example how I viewed life as being a bit like a party or how I had
tortured my poor mother watching the wizard of oz repeatedly almost every day for the first
10 years of my life and been singing ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ loudly in the shower
every day since then. Most importantly he picked up on the fact that my whole family
always say to each other “love you to the stars and back” and suggested we focus on that.
He understood completely that I would like the song to be a ballad song, but not a sad
sounding one. In hindsight, asking someone to create an upbeat sounding song which
addresses someone’s inevitable premature death sounds like a rather tall order but Jamie
took it in his stride and used his musical genius to create beautiful music to go with my lyrics
that gave exactly the balance I hoped for. After just five short weeks, I had a completed song
and it was off to my shower to practice!
When it came to actually recording the song, I won’t lie I was nervous but Ben and Jamie
encouraged me, and supported me to feel comfortable. Being in the studio was actually
really fun. The day and experience itself were a definite item ticket off my bucket list and by
two days later I had digital copies plus CD’s of the song.
When I had initially embarked upon writing a song with the Swan Song Project, I had always
thought of it as something I was doing for my family’s benefit. It never occurred to me that
there would be any positive effects on me but it turns out there really were. First of all, the
weekly zoom sessions gave me something to look forward to they were fun and a very
welcome distraction from all the hospital appointments and chemo etc. Secondly, when I
completed the song, I got such a sense of achievement. Successfully carrying out something
that I had initially envisaged as maybe being impossible gave me a renewed sense of self-
worth and made me realise that despite my illness and my limitations I can still achieve
good things in this life.
The process meant I spent time reflecting on all the happy memories of the past and
ironically instead of feeling sad in the way I had initially worried about I actually felt happy
as I reminisced about all the good times. I also had to spend a bit of time thinking about the
inevitable future. Until this point I had felt powerless and out of control but I found that in
writing my song I did have at least some element of control. I could control how this song
went and I had control over the legacy I will leave.
The whole process was cathartic, therapeutic and allowed me to say a few certain things to
my family that I wouldn’t have felt comfortable said to them in conversation. It gives me
such comfort and peace to know that I have definitely and without shadow of a doubt said
everything I needed to say to my loved ones. Knowing this helps me now sleep soundly and
there are no more ‘2 am moments’. I also feel content that through my song, my words and
voice have been immortalized and a piece of me will live forever.
This song has been the best thing I have done to express my love and appreciation of my
family and it means such a lot to each and every one of us. It is the unique and personal
story of our love, our memories and our lives together in past, present and future tense
encapsulated in a song. It’s celebration of us and helps to give happiness in the face of
sadness. It brings my loved one’s great comfort knowing they have my words, in my voice,
from my heart, to keep forever. My mum in particular finds it comforting that no matter
what happens she will forever be able to hear my singing as if I’m still just in the next room
singing away in the shower.
If there is anyone similar to me that likes the idea of doing a song but is concerned about
not being ‘musical’ I’d say if The Swan Song Project can get a lovely song out of me, they can
certainly get one out of anyone! I would advise others to just jump in and go for it as there
are so many positive effects for both you and your loved ones. It’s a wonderful opportunity,
not to be missed and I’m sure you won’t regret it, heck who knows you might even have
some brilliant fun along the way like I did.
I’d just like to thank Ben, Jamie and The Swan Song Project for all you are and all you do. Not
only from me but on behalf of each and every person living with a terminal illness plus their
loved ones who you have helped in this unique and special way.