One Autumn Day Surviving Cancer

Post Date: 12 June 2016
Post Type: Piano Things

Review of a remarkable memoir on suriving cancer from Fred Scott, virtuoso pianist and composer:
One Autumn Day: Surviving Cancer
Fred Scott
£7.99 from Amazon
ISMB 978-1-911079-18-7
This is a remarkable, touching, inspirational and extraordinary autobiographical memoir about the cruelness of fate, the power of inner strength, and the omnipresent wonders of love. 54-year-old London born Fred Scott is a virtuoso pianist, an individual composer of distinction, and a well-loved teacher. I have known and admired him for over ten years now, but in all that time he has never talked more than passing terms about his serious illness and health issues. Instead it was teaching, EPTA projects and our shared love of Ferruccio Busoni that have tended to crop up as topics of conversation. Fred’s huge inner energy, enthusiasm for piano playing and indefatigable optimism for life has unquestionably held him in good stead: At the young age of 23 in 1985 he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer which manifested itself initially as a tumour in his left leg. Studying piano and composition at the Royal Academy of Music at the time, he suddenly found his world destroyed. All hopes, plans and dreams seemed shattered forever as he faced endless hospital visits and extended stays, operations, chemotherapy and unbelievable pain and anguish. Much of this is described and documented vividly and precisely in the book. Scott holds no punches in 120 pages of harrowing memories, written strongly in a style that is immediately commanding of attention. Fred is a unique and remarkable man. From the opening pages, the reader is in no doubt whatsoever that he is most certainly built of extraordinary qualities. Courage, determination and positivity to a phenomenal extent is always there. But this is no tragedy- Scott finds a loving wife and by the end of the memoir (it takes us up to 2015) we learn that his three children have grown up happily and remain by his side. The love and support from family and friends see Fred winning what is still in 2016 an ongoing war with an appalling disease.

I found Scott’s book impossible to stop reading. It may be shockingly explicit, but it is important for others to realise just what chemotherapy entails, just how strong you have to be to cope. The book is full of detailed descriptions, but perhaps the most strikingly individual of these involve Fred’s memories of ‘coming round’ after being anesthetised. Musicians will all smile at his recollections of singing, conducting and generally feeling more than a little high as reality gradually re-evolves. Unquestionably the ‘peak experience’ that this necessitated was a direct result of Fred’s intense musical passions:
I was back again in the huge expansive place of the golden glow. This time I was surrounded by the music of Bach- the magnificent B minor Mass. The opening Kyries’ fugue, a very chromatic, semi-tone rich theme, which the great Johan Sebastian was able to weave and build like a cosmos. I became part of this. I heard a voice and felt it emanating from my chest, the entry of the basses, then…
‘Fr-ed. How do you feel?’
I was back in recovery, not actually in paradise after all. A wave of warmth and I was out again, back to the place of golden glow. Low strings moving upwards in steps in a triplet rhythm. Again, a choir, male voices. The final movement of the Busoni Piano Concerto. I am conducting, singing along with the choir in the final hymn of the movement.
‘Why is he waving his arms around?’
‘He always foes this after surgery’. It’s the voice of my wife, explaining to the recovery nurse my usual post-op behaviour….

Of course there are so many unsung heroes who have lived with cancer over the generations, so in a way this book stands as a great testament to willpower and courage as shown by all who have suffered from the disease. And Fred’s account shows what those close to cancer patients have to endure too. Mothers and fathers, families, close friends go through a physically exhausting and emotionally draining marathon dealing with hospital visits, waits. It is indeed a cruel roller-coaster existence for families and friends of cancer patients- they face so many ups and downs, often over many years, as support is given. Ultimately it is the powerlessness for those closest to the patients that is the saddest thing: They can only watch helplessly and hope for miracles for much of the time as they witness the suffering. This comes over touchingly in the book. The reader is made aware too of just how exceptional the medical profession is. Fred makes a particular point of praising the medical staff who look after seriously ill patients throughout book. He is always clear in pointing out that his own Doctors and Nurses were exceptionally supportive, mentioning in particular his first orthopaedic surgeon, Anthony Hall, to whom he owes his life.

Ultimately the great love and support Fred gave and received from his adoring wife and family ensured his survival and continued recovery. His story also embraces a strong, inextinguishable enthusiasm and passion for music. The combination of music with love gave and continue to give Fred the means to fight his disease. The book’s title becomes completely meaningful in the epilogue, which recounts an Autumnal stroll in a favourite local park which Fred had with his youngest daughter. He looks at her in the near distance in 2015 and reflects on his fate:

‘I cannot be happier, more fulfilled, loving life- the pain and challenges eclipsed by this experience. My little girl is at the riverbank, she turns and walks a little slower than usual back toward me, an idyllic smile on her face. She walks right up to me and nuzzles her head against my amply-upholstered middle, putting her arms around me. Looking up, she says, ‘I love you, Daddy’ I just wanted to tell you’. A squeeze, and off she runs again, chasing a pigeon.

Fred Scott’s courage, creativity, talent love and generosity make him a remarkable, inspirational hero.

Murray McLachlan