San Clemente local, Luther Rowe has been on a long journey to beat cancer. He and wife, Brenda Eisenhower-Rowe got news of pancreatic cancer in March 2016. Shortly after, Luther got rushed into surgery in an attempt to remove the tumor but was rudely awoken an hour after the surgery had started. The cancer had metastasized to his liver, and chemotherapy would be the only option. His oncologist at the time felt Luther was past the point of no return. Though he had shown a good response to the chemo, the oncologist still felt there was nothing they could do. According to medical opinion, he had a three to eight percent chance of surviving.
“At that point, we were pretty well destroyed,” says Luther. “We didn’t know what to do.”
His friends had an idea what to do. Some of the local firemen, OC Tavern folks and musician friends of Luther’s got together to put on a benefit. On July 8, 2016, over 400 people showed up at the OC Tavern to lend support. The community wanted Luther to take care of himself, which was reflected not only in the amount of money raised but in the emotional support given. Luther says he and Brenda went through about three to four months of intense grief in the beginning and found it incredibly difficult to focus on the positive.
“After the event,” he says, “we were finally able to … grow away from the morbid side of it all and move into the ‘let’s live’ side.”
Music has been another key in the battle. Luther started playing guitar in 1961 when he was just seven or eight years old. His neighbors were rockabillies, and they helped to grow his interest in playing. He was also very involved in choir at the church where his father was the minister. By high school, Luther says he was already fighting difficult battles with the help of music. He grew up in a highly segregated part of the south, and some of his best friends were black. One of those friends happened to be the lead singer in his band which caused a loud, collective gasp by audience members at the high school talent show. Three white sons of church leaders being in a band with a black kid was audacious. Luther says it was one of the best things he ever did.
Over the last 16 months, he has channeled that audacity to keep fighting cancer. He has continued to use music to keep himself occupied and his thoughts away from the negative. Brenda and friends have encouraged him to keep picking up gigs. Though it’s difficult for him to play longer than two hours at a time, he keeps on playing. Locally, you can catch him at Adele’s on the second Friday of every month.
Despite early medical opinions, cancer has shrunk. Luther was able to find an oncologist with a more positive outlook and is currently doing radiation in an effort to shrink cancer more and eventually, remove it completely. He says the positivity of his oncologist has given him hope, and he believes it has been a factor in helping him beat cancer. He has also found hope through the music, the support of his community and of course, his number one fan, Brenda. Luther recognizes how challenging the journey has been for his wife as well, and he’s overwhelmingly grateful to have her by his side.
“God knows the support from her has been amazing,” he says.