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It was 1997 when Sandy Catron of Galax first went to Rainbow’s End, a health food store that would later develop into a thriving music venue called “The Other Side.”
“They had started having drum sessions there, and people would come in and hang out, and jam together,” she remembered.
Since she was a young girl, Catron had dealt with a number of anxieties, and typically shied away from large gatherings of people. But when she heard about the music, she decided to make herself go in the hopes that she would get over her fears. “After a while, bands started coming in and asking if they could do shows in the back of the store, so they started letting bands put on shows, and I started helping out.”
Little did she know at the time, but Catron’s involvement with the local rock music scene would escalate from ticket-taking to orchestrating multi-band concerts and events. Over the years, the bands she met and helped promote became her family.
These musicians say Catron was always there to help when they needed her. And now, they want to return the favor.
Last year, Catron fought and won the battle of her life against uterine cancer. In the process of doctor visits, hospital stays and surgeries, she accumulated around $40,000 in medical debt. To raise money to pay her bills, and give back the support she’s spent years giving out, the local rock music scene will gather at the Independence VFW on April 26 to put on a benefit concert, aptly named “Sandyfest.”
They have invited the community to join them for an afternoon of rock music, guitar shredding and drumming contests, food, prizes and more.
A Family Fight
Catron knew at an early age that she was at risk for developing cancer. When she was only 16, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. “Mom was bound and determined to see my brother finish high school,” Catron said, so she witnessed her mother fight against the disease for 10 years.
Catron’s eyes brimmed with tears as she recalled her mother sitting on the field at Grayson County High School, in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank, watching her brother graduate. “She died about a month after that.”
Her grandmother also died from cancer. So when Catron was first diagnosed, she took the news calmly.
“It’s really scary, but when they told me I had cancer, I just looked at them and said, ‘Alright, what do we do?’” she said. “They asked me why I wasn’t hysterical, or crying, and I explained that I grew up with this, and I learned that you don’t lay down and cry. You stand up and fight.”
When she first began having problems, doctors diagnosed it as pre-menopause.
However, a procedure in July 2013 revealed that she had fibroid cysts. “They explained that they can show up anywhere, and that even men can develop them,” she said.
Doctors planned to do tests on the cysts every six months to make sure that none of them were malignant.
In late August or September, she began to develop severe pains, which continued escalating until her friend, Bobbie Slate, rushed her to the hospital, where she received an emergency partial hysterectomy in October. “They had to give me two pints of blood when I first came in, and when they [started surgery], they found a cyst the size of a softball.”
When she came to, she wasn’t allowed painkillers right away, so Slate stayed by her bedside to comfort her. “I remember her sitting there, telling me ‘go to your happy place!’” Catron laughed.
Later, she found out that cancer had been found on the removed cyst. “The doctor told me that, had they known it was there, that they would have done a complete hysterectomy right then.”
She did go back for a laparoscopic surgery in December, and so far the surgery is considered a success. “No one is ever 100 percent cancer-free. No matter what, cancer can come back anywhere. It’s something that I’ll have to deal with my entire life. But so far, everything is looking good, and they believe that they got it early enough.
Since the surgeries were completed, Catron has dealt with some of the same anxieties she had conquered previously in her life. “Sometimes I get flashbacks to what happened and then I have panic attacks — the doctors think I’m post-traumatic,” she said. Because of this. she has had to re-condition herself against her fears. “For two years, I lived in fear of my own body. I wondered if I’d be able to get out of bed without passing out, or make it through a day of work. If anything, I just wish I’d gotten help sooner.”
A Family of Musicians
Catron has worked closely with the independent bands in this area, and she remembers many of them from when they first formed.
After blending into the concert scene, Catron shared that the teenagers that came to the shows started calling her “Cryptangel,” which she still hears from time to time. “That’s how a lot of them remember me now,” she laughed.
After The Other Side venue closed, Catron continued to bring in bands for shows in the area, even when the pay wasn’t always the best. “People asked me why I liked to promote, since a lot of times, I would lose more than I made. The fact is, I love it. I love seeing the kids excited for the shows, and I feel good giving them someplace to be, a safe environment where they can have fun.”
Many of the friends she made in the music scene remained close and supported her as she went through her battle with cancer. “People think that because they are death metal or heavy metal that they are evil, but they’re not. Most of the bands I’ve met here are the type that, if you ever need or want anything, you call one of the guys and they are there to help,” she said.
Even when some of them weren’t around physically, she said that her favorite bands got her though some difficult days. “When I was hurting and sick, listening to their music was one of the ways I got through it,” she said.
The Next Step
While the battle against the disease has been won, Catron has been left to deal with a staggering number of medical bills. “A year and a half before, I was going to the emergency room at Twin County Hospital at least once a week. Then there is Novant Oncology, Novant Hospital, Northern Hospital of Surry County…”
As a concert promoter, Catron had even done a similar benefit show to her own in the past. “I’d actually done a show called ‘Maryfest’ for my friend Mary Sexton, when she had a brain tumor with no insurance to back her up,” she said.
So, when her friends learned about her situation, several of them suggested that they do the same thing for her.
“I’m not the type of person who asks for help. I just feel bad to ask for help,” she said. “But when I told Dennis [Warren, of Cult of Dionysis] that, he says, ‘Dear God, why? After all that you’ve done for everybody else?’”
Warren offered to spearhead the project for Catron. “Then a couple of days later, he asked if I could get ahold of the VFW,” she smiled.
Some of the bands and other friends she’s made in the area have already confirmed that they will be at the show, and Catron is getting more excited about the show as it draws closer. “So many friends have told me that they’re coming back for the show… It’s going to be like a better class reunion!” she said.
A Message to Fight
Catron also shared that, now that she has health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, she plans to have regular mammograms and check-ups so that she can catch anything that might develop in the future.
As a cancer survivor, her new goal is to be an example for others who are at risk. “So far, I’ve inspired one friend to have the surgery she needed, because she watched me go through what I went through,” she said.
She stressed that anyone who is questioning their health should see a doctor right away, and be insistent if they believe it’s something serious. “People don’t realize that they don’t have to be afraid of asking the doctor to do tests. If you think you need more answers, tell them. They are there for you.”
Catron extended her thanks to her friends who have helped her through this difficult time, as well as those who have contributed to the event; the bands who have committed to the show; her uncle Mike Goins, for consistently checking in on her during her recovery; and all of the hospitals for their hard work, including Blue Ridge Physicians for Women.
Sandyfest will be held from 2-11 p.m. at the Independence VFW Hall.
A $5 donation will be taken at the door.
Scheduled to perform are The Fluffers, Perfection in Decay, Fletcher’s New Toy, Psychotropic Remedy, 18 Days, Cryptameria and Cult of Dionysis.
There will be a drum competition and a guitar shredding competition, which are $5 each to enter. Contestants in both competitions will get a chance to show off their mad skills and win a cash prize.
A wide variety of concessions will be available, including nachos, hot dogs, homemade pulled pork, homemade chili and slaw, desserts and non-alcoholic beverages.
There will also be a raffle, with a variety of prizes included, such as photography and design work by Miranda Holdaway, a gift certificate from Schewel’s Furniture, gift certificates for meals at local restaurants (The Pie Factory, Long John Silvers, Porky’s) and a $50 certificate from tattoo artist Jackie Newman.
The show is for all ages, so no alcohol, drugs or violence will be tolerated.
Smoking is prohibited inside the building.
For more information, contact Sandy Catron, Dionysis Metalcult or Shirley McNeil on Facebook.
• In addition to the concert, friends and community members can make a donation to help Sandy Catron at Woodforest National Bank.