California Oncologist Connects with Song

Truth Atlas Article by Karen Moline

Jennifer’s Story

Jennifer and her sisters had a wonderful relationship with her mother. Their house was full of love, and full of music. Debbie was extraordinarily musical. She loved music, loved performance, loved dance, and had a beautiful singing voice. She used to make up songs in rhyme and was often asked by family and friends to help them create poems or poetic songs for special life events and occasions. All of her daughters claimed their mom as their best friend. The family was devastated when they learned of Debbie’s diagnosis.

Jennifer first knew Dr. Eisenberg as a friend. They met when she first moved to San Diego in 2002. Jennifer and her husband were about the same age as Steve and his wife, and both couples were starting their families. When Jennifer’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, she leaned on Steve for support and a better understanding of what her mom was facing. They would check in with each other regularly, and while he was not her doctor, Steve tracked Debbie’s health closely as a friend. One day when Jennifer and Steve were talking, he mentioned that he had started writing songs for some of his patients. Jennifer and her mom both loved the idea, and saw the opportunity as a gift.

Steve interviewed Jennifer to get ideas and content about Debbie and her life. Debbie loved butterflies—she saw them as free and beautiful, and used to say that if there was an afterlife, she’d like to come back as a butterfly. With Jennifer’s input, Steve wrote an original, beautiful song for Debbie called “I’m a Butterfly.” Steve performed it for Debbie in her home in the last few weeks of her life. At that point in her illness, she sometimes drifted in and out of sleep; however Jennifer could tell she was captivated by the song, and seemed to pick up the tune and hum along.

For Jennifer, being interviewed about her mom when Steve was creating the lyrics for “I’m a Butterfly” was very healing. It was a gift to Debbie and the whole family to have a song that honored Debbie’s life. Debbie passed away a few weeks after Jennifer and Steve wrote and performed the song. Now, when Debbie’s grandkids see butterflies, they tell their parents they saw “Granny the butterfly” that day.

Since her mother’s diagnosis, Jennifer has become a passionate advocate for breast cancer research. She organized an annual fundraising walk at her temple, Temple Emanu-El in San Diego to create solidarity among all people with or connected to breast cancer and to raise awareness and money for cancer research. The community walk has since been renamed The Debbie Berton Walk to pay tribute to Jennifer’s mom. Last year, at the 3rd annual walk, Jennifer asked Steve to play “I’m a Butterfly” in honor of Debbie.

The Amazing Nile Rodgers

Legendary Producer and musician Nile Rodgers was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer last October. He tells his story beautifully in his blog Walking on Planet C. His candid vulnerability, love of life and love of music is incredibly inspiring and uplifting.

NBC San Diego

NBC San Diego did a piece on me in February, which was really exciting and a great experience for everyone involved. It featured Lauren’s song “We Are One.”

Here‘s a link to the article.

Bring them something that lasts longer than your visit

I’m a musician, so for me, music is the first thing that comes to mind. Bring some of your favorite CDs for them to listen to, bring a book or book on tape, or bring a box set of a TV show. Depending on where they are physically in their stages of healing, just giving them something to do to help pass the time, make them smile, and get their minds off of their sickness is a huge help.

Little gestures make a difference

I love walking into a hospital room with flowers, balloons, cards or room decorations. It never gets old, and I really believe it makes a difference on patients’ outlooks. It’s a beautiful reminder that someone loves you. The more patients are reminded of that, the more strength they can harness to get through this difficult time.

Don’t take anything personally

One thing that breaks my heart is when I see patients’ personal lives suffer when they’re sick. It’s incredibly common. Being sick and facing a life threatening illness can of course bring out the worst in you. Allow your loved ones a safe space to be angry, say things they don’t mean, and do them the great favor of not taking it personally. Put your ego aside, and just be there for them.

Help reduce your friend’s stress in small ways.

Anything you can do to lessen the stress of your loved one is a contribution to his or her healing. When you’re battling a serious illness, everything becomes more stressful. Offer to help with little things like making dinner, doing laundry, babysitting, offering rides to the doctor, etc. Knowing that you have people there to get you through each day is an enormous stress reliever.


I love reading an increasing amount of medical reports on the healing power of laughter. It’s amazing. Get your friends and family laughing. Send links of silly videos. Be goofy. Do whatever it takes to make them laugh.

Power of distraction

No one wants to be defined by his or her illness, even if that illness feels like it’s all-consuming. Don’t forget to connect with your loved ones outside of their illness. Whether it’s food, sports, movies, books or music, getting people into a different emotional space can be very healing for the body, and there’s no one better to do this than friends or family. This is something you can do better than any doctor or healer.