Monday, October 13, 2008

Catching my Breath: Part 2- One out of Five

In 2003 I was diagnosed with Scleroderma, an autoimmune condition that could potentially take a turn for the worst. I was in the best shape of my life and potentially building my career as a Rock Star. This was a serious event but I took it upon myself to fend off any negatively creative views of my future. I fought the condition with resilience, taking every moment to reflect on life and do my best and decided that this will not stop me from enabling my dreams. On the clinical side I was able to find a specialist who helped me to stabilize the progression of the condition through some severe drug therapy. On the emotional level, family, friends and music played the greatest role in letting me achieve even more stability. I went ahead and pushed forward, trying to live as normal a life as possible and continue pursuing the dreams I so much aspire to.

Back in the early 90's I had spearheaded a new movement that would eventually create a new demand and forge a new category for music in Nor-Cal. Although Rock en Espanol had its early beginnings in this country dating back to the 50's and 60's it had never taken a full identity. Rock en Espanol became the new talk in town through the Bay Area and right after showcasing my new band a surge of new groups started to clone. Los Angeles had seen the same surge and demand for the ranga but being so close to the border the sound generated was highly influenced by Mexico. The Bay Area wide cultural diversity offered something different and the movement was in its infancy. Clubs all over started opening the doors for this new sound eventually giving birth to "La Rockola", the best and only place to see the cream of the cream of the new movement of latin rockers emerging in the Bay. "La Rockola" was featured every Sunday at the famous "Berkeley Square". This venue was brought to reality by the Caipo brothers, Eddie and Juan Manuel who at the same time, along with me, would plant a seed for underground sonic history. OriXa became one of the most sought after Latin Alternative outfits in the US; the brain child of myself and long time music partner Juan Manuel Caipo. My life as a local celebrity in the music scene of the Bay Area was a humble achievement. By 2003 the band was ever demanding and we had started working on our upcoming album "Siembra"; a process that would takes us 2 years to complete and what later would become our breaking point.

At the same time my life was taking another turn…my daughter, Kaya, was born in April 2003. By the end of 2003 it seemed as though I had conquered my menaces; Scleroderma didn't pose a threat anymore or at least it seemed that way. Kaya gave new meaning to everything. Without her and without the support of my family and friends I think I would have fallen into darkness. As time passed I learned more about my condition and all of its possible scenarios. Undertaking this situation would force me to face the greatest battle of my life.

No one could prepare me for my next chapter. Having stabilized the condition for almost 2 years gave me great hope and I kept on trucking. Early 2005 "Siembra" was a reality and the boys and I were ready to take over the world. The record was hot and all we needed was the right timing and the right place to diffuse our artistic concept. By 2006 OriXa was going strong. We were on the top of things - MTVes was giving us love, due to our our strong single "Siembra" with a video directed by Leonardo Ricagni from Mojo- A Band Apart; a small independent film company owned by Quentin Tarantino. We were playing great shows and doing what we love. I was in heaven. Even though I knew I was fighting a monster I was still able to hang in there and do what I was made for, music. Playing great shows with some of our peers, hanging out, playing the Fillmore with Café Tacuba, El Tri, touring with La Maldita, hitting New York, LA and our very own Bay Area. I was breathing it, living it. My life seemed perfect. Kaya was thriving, family life was beautiful and music was there to support me. I was a Rock Star.

Towards the end of 2007 we all started to fade within our circle. OriXa had been at it for almost 13 years, especially Juan Manuel and I. The band and I started to lose momentum and what had begun as a great year was slowly deteriorating, and so was my health. One of the potential issues that could occur with this condition is that it could attack my internal organs. I was diagnosed with a mild form of systemic scleroderma, however, that was not enough to rule out the possibility for it to turn into something fatal.

OriXa and I decided to take a hiatus from the scene; this was something we all had personally agreed to as we felt we have had a good run for awhile and were due a much needed break. Our last release “Siembra”, which we were very proud of, seemed to have done great things for an independent band but, in the end, we were overshadowed by the greater forces of the industry, lacked a strong management team and most of all, any financial backing to enable our work to be marketed to reach the masses. “Siembra” did not tap its highest potential. At times we felt sad, frustrated and even angry. Letting go felt very hard but we all took space, went in different directions and decided to focus on our personal lives and interests.

2007 began with a strange blue feeling. It was hard to imagine that OriXa would be asleep for a whole year or even more but I was okay with it and it was time to get back to raise my game regarding my condition. I was in it for life so I had to really take the time to focus my energy and pour myself into finding what could make me better. Not having the pressure of the band would give me more time to stay focused.

In April 2007 I started to notice that I was running out of breath rather often. This sensation had started towards the end of 2006 but since I was always a very active individual I didn’t pay much attention. In fact, OriXa’s performances were always praised for the high energy I brought into it. I mountain biked, rock climbed, snowboarded. I never questioned it and convinced myself that I was just a little out of shape. After taking a Pulmonary Function Test it was clear to me that that was not the situation. Reality had struck again. The condition had manifested in my lungs, and a very slow but certain progression was at work. Relentless amounts of tests determined that this was real, and I was put on a new trial of drugs to find the perfect cocktail to stabilize its progression. By the end of the year I had lost 20 pounds in 6 months. This was due to the fact that I had lost 50% of my diffuse capacity, the lungs ability to transfer gases. Scleroderma was thickening and damaging the alveolar walls of my lungs. This made my body work 3 times as hard, consuming 3 times the amount of calories than an average person. Basically I had turned into a runner without running at all. Breathing had become a very difficult task, I had to move slowly to avoid exerting my system, at times needing supplemental oxygen to keep my oxygen saturation levels up to pace.

A few months after I started researching and learning about lung transplants I came to very much contemplate the possibility. I had learned through my research that I was a potential candidate for it. Learning about the risks but also the high cost of it completely shocked my world and emotionally taxed my spirit. This is something beyond what I had ever imagined. Emotionally there was no parallel however; there was something beyond my own understanding that was telling me this was my window of opportunity and I had to take my chances. This would not cure me from the condition but would bring me back to somewhat of normal functionality, making me breath hard and strong, allowing me to sing again and, most importantly, to achieve what everyone should have - a better quality of life. Lung transplants are very much at the cutting edge of technology and most people with transplants get to live fuller lives. Within months, in most cases people are back to riding bikes, exercising and having pretty normal lung capacity. Of course, there are lots of risks involved such as rejection and infection, but these are part of the road to take and that feeling inside me kept telling me I needed to tackle this moment without hesitation if I were to enable my own dreams. I learned that 1 out every 5 calls of a potential donor may turn into a false alarm; this was because at times the organ my not be what the doctors are looking for. I basically reprogrammed my mind and told myself: Rowan, one call one time we'll fly.

Stay tune for Catching my Breath: Part 3- Frame of Mind

One Love, Rowan


Alexandria said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vincent Leddy PT said...

The world is much more rich with you and your lungs (new and ready to go) belch it out when you are ready my friend. I will be thrilled to hear you let it rip through a bullhorn. Life is short and you sure show us all how to live it FULLY!