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Seattle musicians strike a chord with cancer research

OK Sweetheart is one of seven bands featured on The Violet Sessions live album to support Project Violet cancer research. (ProjectViolet.org)
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Music can cure the blues, but can it help find a cure for cancer? A group of Seattle bands has come together to honor a young girl who lost her life to the disease and to raise money for research.

We have been following Dr. Jim Olson’s journey to eliminate Glioblastoma, which is a type of brain cancer that is especially aggressive and also deadly.

Olson, who works out of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has his sights set on eliminating this cancer because he made a promise to an 11-year-old patient named Violet.

“Before she died, she asked that we take her brain at the time that she died and create research tools to share with other scientists around the world so that kids in the future wouldn’t have to go through what she did,” Olson said.

For the last decade, Olson and his team developed Tumor Paint with research funds from Project Violet. It’s a substance injected into a patient that’s derived from a protein found in scorpion venom. The paint only bonds to cancerous tissue, making it easier for a surgeon to see.

“The interesting thing is that Tumor Paint can’t be seen by our naked eye, so it’s pseudo-colored onto a computer screen and what we see is beautiful green, a green, glowing tumor,” Olson said.

Violet’s story and the development of Tumor Pain was more than enough to inspire a group of Seattle musicians. They teamed up to create a live album called “The Violet Sessions”.

OK Sweetheart is one of seven bands on “The Violet Sessions.” Their Kickstarter campaign already raised more than $11,000 to support Olson’s research.

“He sent me a video, actually, that they had made of Violet so that I could actually see,” said the band’s singer-songwriter Erin Austin. “That was my first introductions to her and it was such an amazing thing to see the strength that she had at such a young age and I think that there’s a lot to be learned by kids who put up a fight.”

Austin’s song “Safe” might be the most personal and heartbreaking song on the album. She wrote it for anyone who has lost a loved one.

“The first thing that came out of my mouth was the feeling of wanting your child home safe,” Austin said.

The words of her song are stunningly accurate to the emotions faced by parents who have lost a child. The lyrics came from a time when she almost lost her mother.

“I was driving back from the hospital one day and I thought ‘what would it feel like if I lost my mom?’ What would people say? And how would I feel and I would be kind of ticked from most of their responses because they would be king of flippant, stereotypical like ‘she’s in a better place’ and then this idea ‘well, I want to be in that place, I don’t want to not see that person anymore,'” Austin said.

“The Violet Sessions” live album has been out for a few weeks now. Austin is surprised, but pleased that her little-known song “Safe” has touched so many.

“It’s genuine. I mean people feel it and there’s a lot of hugging and crying that happens when people feel that connection and a good amount of understanding. It’s real,” Austin said.

OK Sweetheart is joined by St. Paul de Vence, Naomi Wachira, Le Wrens and Ben Fisher at Barboza on Tuesday, October 21 for “The Violet Sessions” CD release party. Tickets are $10 and will go towards Olson’s research at Fred Hutch. Doors open at 7:30.

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