It was the first day back from a three-week winter break as I made my weekly trek across Urbana and into Champaign. I was on my way to spend the next three hours of my Monday night watching professional wrestling, a ritual that had become so concrete in my schedule that it became a priority. More importantly, I was on my way to a house that had become my home away from home. A house full of punks who regularly host shows in their basement, under the moniker, “Garfield’s Garden.” A house full of punks who live and breathe music, whether they’re playing with their own bands or releasing friends’ albums through record labels run out of their bedrooms. A house I felt the comfort in — not because of its sturdy, concrete structure, but because of the people I grew to love inside of it. But as I walked up to the house that Monday night, there was one person inside who I was particularly looking forward to seeing.
Despite having looked forward to the new year as a chance to go on a two-week tour with his band Easter — a trip he had planned since summer 2012 — Kyle Lang had some of the worst weeks of his life. He had suffered massive headaches and flu-like symptoms that left him continuously vomiting throughout the tour, falling short of finishing the full two-week schedule and departing from his friends and tour-mates, Kowabunga! Kid, when they arrived in St. Louis.
I anticipated welcoming Kyle back to Champaign and to a refurbished state of health. Yet, when I walked up the cold concrete steps of the Garden’s stoop and knocked on the door, Kyle didn’t answer. He wasn’t in his room. He wasn’t in front of the television with the others. He wasn’t in the basement hammering away on his drum set or swooning ghosts with melodies on his guitar. He had never come back.
Over three months later, Kyle’s bedroom calendar still reads “December,” and his red pick-up truck sits idly in the gravel driveway, no longer able to start. Almost daily, the remaining tenants of the house still give roundabout answers about where the musician has gone, while they weren’t even aware of the reason for Kyle’s mysterious disappearance in the weeks after the semester began.
Still unsure, I returned home for a weekend in February and waited for Kyle to join me for lunch as I sat parked on the driveway of his Oak Forest home. He finally came outside, wearing an eye-patch and a hooded jacket, entered the four-door car and greeted me with the same enthusiasm and sincerity that had been missing from the CU music scene for nearly three months. It was after he removed the hood from his head that I recognized the budding bald spots scattered throughout what was left of his head of hair. For the first time in my life, I didn’t want words to come out of Kyle’s mouth.
“I have cancer,” he said.
As it turned out, Kyle had much more than the flu while on tour. After returning home from St. Louis, he underwent MRIs, CT scans and biopsies that found a cancerous tumor in the pineal region of his brain.
“I nearly fainted and literally pissed my pants when I found out,” Kyle said.
The tumor, which was cancerous and made of malignant cells, was blocking spinal fluid from flowing to and from his brain and causing sharp headaches and difficulties in the 21-year-old singer’s vision.
“A few days before the new year, I began to feel a strange pressure in my head,” Kyle said, “not quite like a headache, but a thrusting sensation of swelling in my skull. I first felt it while playing a show at my grandparents’ house, and figured I had pushed too hard while singing. Also, due to the tumor’s placement in my brain, it has caused some problems with my vision. It has become a little blurry, and I see double with both eyes open. Also, for a while, I could not look up or down, only left and right.”
The singer-songwriter immediately began receiving treatment, having a tube placed under the skin behind his right ear, leading down over the clavicle and then into the abdomen in order to help the flow of spinal fluids, previously blocked by the tumor. Kyle ended up on a six-month cycle of chemotherapy, receiving two rounds of treatment that ultimately helped put his health back on track.
After three months of uncertainty, good news finally came.
The blood drawn during his second round of chemo showed the number of enzymes secreted by the life-threatening tumor had decreased dramatically since treatment began — a sure sign the tumor inside the musician’s head was dying.
While much of Kyle’s winter has been spent inside hospitals, he hasn’t forgotten the things he loves the most. Between spending time at home with his family and working on new music, Kyle has been busy. In February, he was featured in the track “Cute Girls” off of Chicago-based rap group The Sooper Swag Project’s second album Next Level. He’s also been working on starting his record label, Secret Saboteur, while recording music of his own.
“I’m hoping to finally finish a new Easter EP that I had completed a rough version of late last year, as well as work on other projects of my own that I’ve been thinking about for some time,” Kyle said.
The follow-up to Easter’s popular 2011 debut, Demonstration, was slated for release in late 2012 when Kyle decided to scrap the recordings and start over.
Although the recording process may take some time, Kyle has taken immediate action in order to make a return to music, booking a show at the Red Herring in Urbana on March 17.
“I think a return to normalcy will be good for me, and the doctors agreed,” he said. “Besides, if I could tour the southeastern states with a tumor growing inside of me, I can play a couple shows with a tumor dying inside of me.”
The mid-March show will also host Ever Ending Kicks, a band from Washington, featuring Paul Adam Benson, former member of Mount Eerie.
As Kyle looks forward to returning to Champaign-Urbana — the home he’s been absent from for three months — he will return having experienced some of the worst life can offer, but with an attitude that shows the best.
“This experience has taught me to take things as they’re handed to me,” Kyle said. “I feel that ultimately I am powerless, but it is still my job to respond to any situation I am confronted with from a positive place.”