David Roberts loves Styx so much he’s seen the rock band in concert 10 times. His dream was to see them once more.
He bought tickets to their performance in March at Celebrity Theatre, knowing he might not make it. David, 73, is battling glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
“I was worried my health wouldn’t hold up,” the Scottsdale resident confided. “But I’ve already lived two years longer than the doctors thought I would.”
To buoy his spirits, David’s Hospice of the Valley care team asked longtime concert promoter Danny Zelisko to pop in for a visit. The two men instantly bonded over their passionate love of music.
“What an honor to meet this guy,” Zelisko said. “He’s one of the bravest people I know. Cancer is tough, but he’s tougher.”
Zelisko brought a gift — a copy of his book, “All Exce$$,” a behind-the-scenes look at rock and roll. While munching warm snickerdoodles baked by David’s wife, Denise, they reminisced about David’s favorite musicians, including Janis Joplin, The Doors, Santana, Jimmy Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Suddenly, Zelisko pulled out his phone and punched in some numbers.
“I want you to say hello to my friend,” Zelisko boomed, handing the phone to David. It took a few moments to register who was on the other end of the line — Styx guitarist and vocalist Tommy Shaw himself.
“That was so wonderful,” David said. “I was shocked and happy at the same time. I've never talked to anyone famous like that before.”
Zelisko’s visit had an enormous impact on David’s outlook.
“He couldn’t stop talking about it,” said nurse Lisa Dempsey. “It made him feel loved. It goes to show there are still happy memories to be made, even during illness.”
David was feeling great on the night of the show. Zelisko greeted him with shirts and posters signed by the band. And then a big surprise: from center stage, Zelisko asked David to stand up from his wheelchair so the whole venue could applaud his strength and determination. As everyone roared, David turned to his wife and asked why they were cheering for him.
“Because you’re special,” she replied.
Tears filled the eyes of his nurse and social worker standing in the back of the theater.
“This is amazing,” whispered social worker Alanna Ambos. “We’re so glad David could have this beautiful experience.”
Lin Sue Flood is the director of community engagement for Hospice of the Valley.
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