Music has always been in Dean’s blood. From a young age, he played piano onstage during his dad’s breaks from singing with the Jim Laury Trio. From there, he would go on to write and produce his own music – even moving to Nashville for a while to pursue his dream of being a singer/songwriter.
When cancer treatments combined with the coronavirus pandemic this year, his days of playing music were cut short – along with his income. As a self-employed musician, playing both in a band and as part of a dueling pianos team in Kalamazoo, Dean and his wife both worked to support their family. However, being self-employed, he did not have health insurance when he was diagnosed with stage 3B rectal cancer in June 2019.
At the time, Dean didn’t qualify for state insurance either, but he knew he had to keep up on the bills. He had surgery and tried to go back to work – against his doctors wishes – but it was difficult as he was the lead singer in the band. In January 2020, Dean got insurance to continue his treatment, but it included an 8K deductible – while he was recovering and earning no income. When the pandemic hit, all of his potential gigs were suddenly cancelled, yet the bills kept rolling in.
“I wasn’t supposed to go back to work while I was on chemo and radiation, but I needed the money,” said Dean. “I was about to vomit onstage a few times. If I had the choice, I wouldn’t have worked at all. It’s been a sore trial and a test, but I’ve gotten through it.”
Eventually, medical complications made working more difficult for him. Ironically, he says, the pandemic forced him out of work, which is when he also realized he shouldn’t be working anyway. Since then, they have cashed in all of their retirement, but with the future so uncertain, he doesn’t know when he will be able to earn a living again as a musician.
Ray of Light
“When I was diagnosed, we were pretty stunned,” he explained. “We really don’t have family nearby, we had no insurance, and we’ll probably have to go bankrupt at some point, but at least we didn’t starve to death. I didn’t know if I was going die; it was pretty scary. My (14-year-old) son cried himself to sleep the first night.”
“We were quite relieved (after hearing from New Day),” said Dean. “I’ve been in kind of a dark place, as you can see, for the last year – so any ray of light is greedily consumed and happily accepted. I was pretty down about how angry everyone is in this country, then I had one friend start a gofundme and it helped get us through. People offered to make food, to drive us places, and I really got to see a lot of good. I appreciate what you do.”
Dean was one of our featured performers during the Hope Shines No-Show Glow in September 2020. He performed a new song that he wrote entitled Learn How To Lean. As a born performer from the age of six, Dean looks back at the start of his career and he knows this is what he was meant to do.
“Somebody gave me a $1 and back then it was 100 gumballs – I was sold,” said Dean about playing live as a child. “I’ve been onstage ever since then.”