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How missing a concert with Jocelyn Brown saved jazz drummer Mark’s life

Alison Birkett
by Alison Birkett | Personal stories

25 October 2023

1 comment 1 comment

Mark Mondesir at his drum kit


“I am so grateful to all the research that has been developed and the people working to make it happen so I can continue living my life and carry on with what I love to do.”

After over 30 years as a professional jazz drummer, Mark Mondesir has gigged with the best in the business, from Courtney Pine to Jeff Beck. 

His work requires both strength and the stamina to make entertaining audiences for hours on stage look effortless. He counts his blessings for working in an industry that is both creative and so physical. 

But in 2018, as he prepared for a once-in-a-lifetime gig playing for soul singer Jocelyn Brown, he received some news that changed his life. 

A missed performance

In October of that year, Mark was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer. 

Not only did he have a tumour in his colon, but also a large tumour attached to his bladder, and to a main artery in his left leg. Major surgery was needed urgently. 

“Just after my cancer diagnosis I was asked by my surgeon to return to the hospital on a Friday afternoon so she could go through the surgery procedure and show me the CT scan,” Mark recalls. 

“I told her I couldn’t make the date as I was due to be performing that night with Jocelyn Brown.  

“My surgeon’s words back to me were ‘if I left it even a week, I would be dead’. Needless to say, I didn’t perform in the concert that night.” 

Mark underwent a seven-and-a-half-hour operation to remove a section of his bowel as well as a section of his bladder. A specialist surgeon was called in to remove the tumour from the artery. Had the artery been damaged in the process, it would have led to Mark’s leg being amputated.  

The treatment required him to have stents inserted during surgery to protect his ureters (vessels connecting the kidneys to the urinary bladder), and a type of stoma called a colostomy fitted. 

Following surgery Mark underwent six months of chemotherapy called FOLFOX and five weeks of radiotherapy. 


 

Radiotherapy benefits more than 130,000 people in the UK each year, and millions more around the world. 

“The tools we use today to diagnose and treat those affected by cancer are beyond anything we might have imagined in the past. All are rooted in discovery research that sought to answer fundamental questions.”  – Professor Sir David Lane 

 

 

The road to recovery 

Having been in the enviable position of working with so many great artists worldwide as a professional drummer, Mark worried his diagnosis would signal the end of his livelihood. 

The physical act of drumming is one which requires the feet as well as two hands, so having internal kidney stents and a colostomy to deal with can cause problems.  

“I have been getting back to work slowly,” he explains.  

“Having been a musician for 37 years it’s difficult to learn to say no to things, but I have to listen to my body. Whenever I was invited to work, I’ve had to make them aware that they needed to have someone on standby just in case I have to pull out at the last minute, in case my kidneys flared up for instance. Nowadays, I’m hoping this won’t be necessary”.  

He added: “I do rely on the kindness of fellow musicians and stage crew to carry my gear as the stoma means I am more prone to having a hernia.” 

But despite the challenges of his treatment, Mark hasn’t let it stop him. 

“I still need to make a living and to think where I was in 2019 when I had the bulk of my treatment, surgery, chemo and radiotherapy, I live moment by moment and I feel so much better and more vibrant as a result. 

“I know that if I had gone through this in the 1980s the treatment just wouldn’t have been that advanced. 

“I am so grateful to all the research that has been developed and the people working to make it happen so I can make more memories and carry on with what I love to do.” 

A moment to remember 

That moment on stage with Jocelyn Brown may not have happened in 2018, but a few years later, thanks to his treatment, Mark made a memory that will stay with him for years to come. 

“I remember showing up at the Jazz Café in London after all my treatment and her son was standing side stage, he stepped out to point me out to Jocelyn in between songs.  

 “He pointed at me, and she looked over and started crying as she knew how close I came to nearly not making it. The audience were mystified as to why she started crying, then she explained my story. She didn’t have to do that. It was touching… she’s a sweetheart 

“I have so many people to thank for being here and I am grateful that I’ve had a chance to share my story. 

“It is still bizarre to think I have a stoma, though I’ve accepted it as part of me and the progress that has been made in cancer treatments mean there are kinder treatments now than there were back in the days when I first started out in making and playing music.” 

“My five-year anniversary from diagnosis is on 1st October, and I feel I have a lot to be thankful for.” 

    Comments

  • Carl Taylor
    27 October 2023

    Fantastic news to hear Mark’s successful recovery from treatment & thank goodness he said no to playing that gig with the incredible voice that is Jocelyn Brown.

    Mark is an incredible drummer who I’ve admired for some years.

    Best wishes from a fellow drummer 🥁

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    Comments

  • Carl Taylor
    27 October 2023

    Fantastic news to hear Mark’s successful recovery from treatment & thank goodness he said no to playing that gig with the incredible voice that is Jocelyn Brown.

    Mark is an incredible drummer who I’ve admired for some years.

    Best wishes from a fellow drummer 🥁

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