Music is Becky Lippard's saving grace

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 12, 2011

By Katie Scarvey
When faced with the prospect of losing most of a lung, Becky Lippard knew what was important to her.
“I’d rather have five years of singing than 15 years without it,” she told doctors.
Becky is well-known locally for her beautiful voice. She’s appeared in many Piedmont Players musicals, including “Smoke on the Mountain” in 1994, “Sanders Family Christmas” in 2000 and the 2006 world premiere of “Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming.”
She’s been in lots of other shows as well, including “H.M.S. Pinafore” and most recently “Nunsense” and “Hairspray” and sings frequently with a Lee Street Theatre group, whose shows are so popular they’ve had to turn people away. She’s also served as the piano accompanist for various shows, including “Curtains,” “Seussical,” “1776” and “Tommy,” and she’s served as a church organist locally for the past 11 years.
All of this comes naturally to Becky, who majored in music and voice performance when she was a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Although it hasn’t necessarily paid most of her bills, music is more than just a hobby for Becky.
“Music has been the saving grace,” she says. Recently, as she’s navigated a series of threats to her health, music has become a healing force.
Last June, Becky had dental surgery, and her health began to deteriorate following that, she says. In July, she lost her job unexpectedly and continued to feel bad. She was listless and feeling depressed. As bad as she felt, she forced herself to try out for the Piedmont Players Theatre show “Nunsense,” hoping it would help snap her out of whatever was getting her down. She got a part, but she wasn’t feeling any better.
While rehearsals for that show continued in September, she finally went to the doctor. Test results showed that she was anemic, dehydrated and in kidney failure. That led to 10 days in the hospital. She got out just in time to take publicity photos for the show.
Somehow, she managed to make it through the run of the show.
While she was in the hospital doctors discovered that Becky had what they felt was a carcinoid tumor on her right lung.
She couldn’t have it removed, however, until her kidney function improved, since the risk of complications during surgery was too great.
In February, her nephrologist determined that she needed to undergo dialysis because her kidneys were no longer filtering impurities. In March, she had a catheter installed so she could undergo dialysis in her own home. She began doing that in April, after receiving training.
Becky hooks herself up to a dialysis machine every night for nine hours. As she sleeps, toxins are cleared from her body.
“It makes you feel so much better,” she says.
She doesn’t mind the process at all, she says, although she has to make sure she has an uninterrupted block of time to do it in. For example, when she was in “Hairspray,” the show ended at 10:30 Saturday night and she had to be at church the next morning at 8:30 — which didn’t leave her a very big window of time for dialysis.
Her doctors weren’t sure what had caused her kidney function to deteriorate so quickly, but there was some speculation that it was possibly related to the tumor or to medication Becky had taken during or after her dental surgery. Although Becky is diabetic, she had always had healthy kidney function before last year, she says.
In May, much healthier because of the dialysis, Becky was finally cleared for her lung surgery. She scheduled it for May 20 — which allowed her to get in one last singing gig with Lee Street Theatre.
A surgeon at Wake Forest’s Baptist Medical Center removed two thirds of Becky’s right lung. Fortunately, the tumor hadn’t spread, and it was determined to be benign.
After the surgery, she felt terrible, wanting to just curl up in a ball and sleep. She was in intensive care for five days.
“I had a hard time getting out of the drug-induced state,” she says. “I just wanted to be left alone with the drugs to stop the pain.”
Worried that Becky wasn’t bouncing back as she should be, a nurse tried to provide stimulation by bringing an iPad to Becky’s bed and playing Stevie Wonder on it.
While the doctors observed, she turned on Stevie Wonder — “You are the Sunshine of My Life” — and Becky began snapping her fingers and tapping her leg.
She remembers the doctors furiously scribbling. “That’s good for you,” her doctor said.
“You have no idea,” Becky responded.
The next day, her best friend and her aunt came to visit her, and Becky found her voice again.
She sang, “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.”
Becky credits music with helping her recover.
“Music is important,” she says. “That and prayers.”
Becky says that having most of one lung removed hasn’t affected her singing, and she’s incredibly grateful for that. The tumor was probably keeping her from using that part of her lung anyway, and it’s possible she’d had the tumor a very long time before it was discovered.
Lee Street Theatre is planning another evening of music at the Black Box Theater for November, and Becky’s looking forward to singing again. She loves Broadway tunes — “Music Man” and “Gypsy” are favorites.
Her favorite musical role to date has been Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd” (who’s “a little bubble off plumb,” Becky says).
Becky’s happy to continue doing what she loves, but there’s still that issue of nightly dialysis.
The next step, Becky says, is going through the steps necessary to get on a kidney transplant list. She’s been told she’s a good candidate.
Still, she says, “I feel better than I have in over a year. I didn’t know how bad I felt until I felt better.”
When people see her these days, they often tell her how well she’s looking, and she responds: “This is what it looks like for me not to worry. You haven’t seen this face for a while.
“This year has been a lesson in humility,” she adds.
“You think you’re strong and independent and you find you have to ask for help…and people want to help you. I just couldn’t have made it (without help).”
Becky hasn’t had a full-time job since last July, but she works part-time at Center for Faith & the Arts and continues serving as a regular substitute organist for the Third Creek Presbyterian Church choir, which she’s done for 11 years now. In 2008, she traveled with the choir to Northern Ireland.
The church has put together a barbecue fundraiser for Becky on Saturday, Aug. 27 from 4-8 p.m. at Third Creek Presbyterian Church, 2055 Third Creek Church Road, Cleveland.
Meals are by donation, and Becky’s Lee Street Theatre buddies will provide entertainment.
Oh yes, and Becky will sing too.
You can hear for yourself that one and a third lungs, if they happen to be Becky Lippard’s, sound better than two lungs on most people.