Musician Gintas Abarius’ Throat Cancer Takes More Than Just His Voice

A devastating recurrence of a severe form of throat cancer has left beloved musician Gintas Abarius literally speechless, consumed his family’s life savings and nearly left him unable to perform. Gintas’ insurmountable medical expenses continue to pile up, exceeding $300,000, and having been recently denied Medicare and food stamps in the U.S. was yet another serious blow to his family. While his faith in God sustains him throughout the ordeal, it has now become impossible for him to pay his family’s most basic living expenses, like food and rent, without the help from others.

If you can find it in your heart to help Gintas and his family pay their monthly bills, please visit him on the web at Abarius.com and donate an amount you are comfortable with via PayPal. The Abarius’ ongoing monthly expenses total approximately $3,735. They were approved for Medicaid, but those benefits will not start until August or September. Gintas also said he will pursue SSI assistance and he his hopeful that local charity Brittany’s Battle will also be able to help.

Gintas Abarius is one of the famous founding fathers of the Lithuanian / Russian jazz scene and has been battling throat cancer since 2006, when it was discovered after his tonsils were removed. Gintas soon underwent chemotherapy and in June, 2006 his doctor said that there was no visual evidence of any tumor. But by the fall of 2008, the tumor had returned and after consulting with his doctor, they concluded that more chemotherapy would be needed. In January of 2009, Baltic Avenue drummer Steve Bowen recognized something was wrong because Gintas’ breath smelled like rotting flesh while they were traveling to Atlanta. Gintas postponed chemotherapy to prepare for his successful sold out March 2009 dueling piano Mozart performance with Povilas Stravinsky (a descendent of Igor Stravinsky) in Lithuania.

Upon returning to North Carolina, Gintas was fully aware that his cancer had worsened and became a life-threatening emergency. “We went to Chicago for a second opinion after consultation with the best Lithuanian oncologists”, Gintas said. “My life was saved in Northwest Community Hospital.” The doctors had given Gintas some unappealing options including the removal of his tongue, vocal chords and part of his jaw. Gintas said it would have been “fantastically expensive and would only give me a 15% chance of survival over the next two years, because surgery by itself creates a venue for metastatic spread.” Doctors also told him that the surgery on his jaw would probably affect his ability to play the piano.

Gintas had emergency surgery on April 24, 2009 after several severe bleeding episodes on that day and the day before. Though doctors did not remove his tongue and vocal chords, they did have to cut a hole in his neck to allow Gintas to feed and breathe due to the growth of the obstructive tumor in his throat. “It was a very complicated physical surgery”, Gintas said. “Nobody had time, cause blood was pouring out like a fountain and I just prayed to God, because I felt I was already departing this earth. Surgery took place in a very extreme situation, when blood came out like a waterfall. So, there was only one thought‚ to stop the bleeding or die. Doctor Ali Shabbani, who is one of the best blood vessel specialists in the nation, did an actual miracle on me. He told me afterward ‘it is a miracle that you are alive. You should thank God for it.'”

After the surgery, Gintas said “I was like a Christmas tree, stuffed with different tubes and suffered a lot from the local pain and every attempt to spit out the secretion, because I couldn’t do it without a special suction machine, that caused terrible pain and choking while it was taking out that stuff. But the medical personnel were fantastic – originally from India, Russia, Europe, and also the precious local American crew – and they did everything to make my suffering easier. I bow my head before every nurse.”

Gintas now uses a software speech synthesizer to communicate with others as he is unable to use his voice. “My fingers became my voice”, Gintas said. His food is in finely pureed liquid form and he mostly uses his feeding tube to eat. His wife, Violeta, said that his prescribed food from Rex Hospital costs them about $200 a month.

Of his family, Gintas says that he’s amazed with their unity and faith. “Our 15-year-old son David looks like he grew up five years during the last one. Circumstances like this very quickly fix the system of values in your mind. I’m weeping, thinking about my wife’s faithfulness and self-sacrificial attitude. She is my true Angel and without her I won’t be able to make it through this entire year alive.” It has not been easy for the Abarius family, especially Violeta, who is unable to work because she tends to Gintas’ needs. “I saw often how difficult my problem was for them. But personal relationship with Lord Jesus, trust in grace and mercy of our Heavenly Father and obedience to the Holy Spirit made even that valley into a place, suitable to live.”

In January and February of 2010, Gintas had four more bleeding episodes, all requiring hospitalization. Just recently on May 2, Gintas had a local bleeding episode in his mouth that he was able to quench with cold water within 20 minutes. One of the bleeding episodes occurred during a church service while he was performing. He said, “imagine if somebody cut your throat with a sword and you are just looking into a red river and counting the minutes until 911 will come. There is no way to stop it, just ice can make the stream a little bit less active.” But he said that it would be the greatest death for a musician – to die on stage or in the church. “Fortunately I had time to run to the sink and maybe after 15 to 20 minutes it stopped. It was in the men’s restroom, but when I stood up from the chair, I was surrounded by men and ladies praying for me. Nobody cared about place, everybody cared about life. That touched my heart deeply.”

Soon after that episode, Gintas began chemotherapy in mid January, 2010. He said, “this time I’m sweating more and experiencing body temperature jumps. I’m taking some pain medicine – sometimes more, sometimes less. Of course, a kind of weakness follows too, because it affects the immune system. But it’s much easier, than 4 years ago.” Gintas’ treatments are on Wednesdays at Rex Hospital, and it takes him a couple of days to gain back his strength.

The cancer has taken many things away from Gintas. He has lost much of his income as a result of his inability to reliably travel and perform. Though he has a downtown Raleigh performance scheduled for June 3 at the Irregardless (which has already been rescheduled several times already), he has not performed publicly since March 26, 2009 in Lithuania, apart from some church services, which can seriously deplete his energy level. “Last year was a season of loss of numerous things – concerts, recordings, students, friends, and finances”, he said. Gintas continues, “One moment I’ve felt like a tree, cut off from almost all branches, but still having a strong main root. That invisible root – faith in my Lord, who is fully in charge of my situation helped me to get through the entire year. On the other hand I was receiving – and still am – unbelievable support first of all from my church, brethren in Christ, and faithful friends from around the globe. Prayers, encouraging words, financial support in this critical time and, most of all their corporate faith, when it looked like I’m almost ready to give up. That was and still is treasure that I have in my life now.”

Gintas continues, “To keep my mind in good shape I read the Bible every morning, historical and spiritual books, listening to the good, deep, building up music, spending some time to enjoy the beauty of North Carolina’s spring and I stay away from most TV shows, except Food TV. Personal relationship with Lord Jesus is the best cure and gives a strength even to make a bed on the bottom of hell.”

Though his wife Violeta may disagree, Gintas says “Praise God, I’m able to take care of myself.” But these days Gintas says “I value as never before just spending time with any member of my Family and ever of my Friends. I sleep with few wake ups in the night to clean my mouth, or don’t sleep at all – especially after taking chemo treatment, but it’s nothing, compared to what other people suffer. Sleepless nights are a great time to create music or write something, that can encourage others. Letters, messages, articles, etc.”

It is now May 2010, and once a week, Gintas continues taking a smaller portion of chemo, much less toxic than he got in 2006. Gintas says his doctors are pleased with the results and it will go on until they decide the work is done. “I trust them”, he says, “because since 2006, REX became like a family to me. I say, jokingly, that Rex is now like my vacation home. But at the same time my heart is focused on The Healer – Jahovah Rapha, Who created medicine and every needle is in His hands.” Gintas believes that he made the right decisions, given the circumstances. “We did everything after counseling and praying with my wife after careful consideration of all opinions from doctors and trusted friends. Both situations – surgery in Chicago and chemo treatment in Raleigh were lifesaving decisions. We can see that clearly now.”

“I began to experience again a significant creative revival, since 2006, when our family joined the River of Life church in Raleigh. There, my dream was supported and understood by my senior pastors and members of the congregation”, Gintas says. “Regardless of my battle with cancer during 2006 to 2008, I’ve recorded three new albums, had five concert and ministry tours in Europe (some fragments of them are on YouTube), had a few significant recitals in the United States, played concerts with Baltic Avenue, my jazz-rock trio, and was active in ministry at the local church. Since year 2006, I’m a worship pastor at the River of Life Church and still performing my duties as my health condition allows.”

Gintas is now in the process of making his music available for sale worldwide from his new website at Abarius.com. Buying his music online is a great way to support him in his time of great need. For those who donate $100 or more, Gintas says he will send you an autographed copy of his “Gates of Joy” CD as he is able. “I didn’t realize how much arrogance I had in this area”, Gintas said, referring to the accepting of help from others. Throughout the last year, Gintas says he has had no choice but to minimize all activities and enjoy weakness – “Enjoy other’s help and be thankful for it.”

So where can we see Gintas now? “These days I treasure every Sunday, when I can play at worship service in church together with my son David, who is a very gifted 15-year-old musician and making significant professional progress under the mentorship of Mr. Nick Campbell, pride of Raleigh drumming and percussioning.” Health permitting, you can find Gintas performing Sundays at the River of Life church in Raleigh. You can find out more on the web at RiverOfLifeRaleigh.com. Gintas is currently unable to commit to any other public performances, but he hopes to be well enough to perform in June.

“The greatest lesson I’ve received is to respect and treasure small, little, almost invisible daily things and mostly – people, because greatness starts always from little beginnings and those, who are behind the stage, make a way for big things. I’ve learned that physical pain is nothing compared to pain of loss. But even loss of things is nothing compared to loss of relationships. I’m so thankful to God, that regardless of my health situation, the last two years was and still remains as a season of healed and fixed relationships, that were broken, damaged or poisoned. That’s a gift you can’t purchase, because one hundred friends is better than one hundred bucks. And the last lesson – family is above career and personal success. Last two are like a wind. The first one remains. To invest in your wife and children is the best investment. This bank won’t collapse, because it’s in a strength of your bloodline and support of God’s word.”

To his family, friends and fans, Gintas would like to say a few things: “First of all – my deepest gratitude and respect. Thanks for being in my life, thanks for the way you are and thanks for being with me in this midnight hour. You are a living lesson of what is truly unforgettable – it’s a love, received, when you are not just on the top of the mountain, but also in the valley. Secondly, don’t stop thinking about tomorrow! Don’t let mistakes of the past control your today! Enjoy every moment of breath and don’t let anybody, even those closest to you, take or steal your joy! Joy has the highest vibration and it makes our life longer! I love you dearly, but my words are too poor to express my feelings, I hope to be able again to pour out before you in the sounds of new music very soon!”

Gintas Abarius is a highly accomplished Lithuanian-born classical/jazz pianist and composer. An icon and founding father of the Lithuanian / Russian jazz scene, he has toured the world extensively. Among his other numerous accomplishments are film soundtracks, children’s music and the composition of several Lithuanian national anthems. You can learn more about Gintas on the web at Abarius.com.

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Musician Gintas Abarius’ Throat Cancer Takes More Than Just His Voice by Rob Kainz is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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