For Kirk Bangstad, the road to his performance Tuesday night at The Campanile Center for the Arts has been a long, convoluted, complicated and joyous journey.
But when he hits the stage for a somewhat hastily-arranged performance of songs that he loves to sing, he will be doing it not only for the love of music and being in front of an audience, but for the love of his life – his wife, Elizabeth.
All of the money that would have gone to Kirk from Tuesday’s performance is being donated to the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation in honor of his wife’s recent battle with lung cancer.
The young couple found their way to the Lakeland area this summer because they have been enjoying life and traveling the past eight months after Elizabeth was diagnosed late last year with stage 4 lung cancer.
As a non-smoker who contracted the disease, the couple discovered that there are no tests to catch the disease early and when she was finally diagnosed the cancer had reached stage 4.
“The stigma with lung cancer is that if you have it you earned it because you smoked your whole life,” Kirk said.
But for those non-smokers like Elizabeth who have the disease, there hasn’t been the growth of the types of fundraising foundations and mechanisms because there just aren’t many who have survived.
But Elizabeth is one of those who have survived, thanks to one of several “wonder drugs” being offered to those who qualify.
In October 2013, when Elizabeth was diagnosed, the couple decided to immediately get married because the best prognosis for someone with stage 4 lung cancer was six months at best.
“She had a mutation called the ALK mutation that 1 percent of all lung cancer patients have,” Kirk said.
“That allowed her to qualify for a new drug called Crizotinib.”
At $10,000 per month, the drug has been costly, but has also reduced her cancer by 80 percent.
“Luckily we had insurance,” Kirk said.
But in the meantime, the couple also stepped away from the working world and decided that because of their situation that they would travel and live life to its fullest.
So over the course of the past few months they have been traveling.
With the diagnosis, the first thing they did was to travel back to the Midwest to visit family. Elizabeth is originally from Ohio and Kirk is from Stevens Point.
They also spent a month skiing in Colorado and another month hiking in Spain.
Every couple of months, they have also traveled back to New York City for tests.
Kirk has been living in New York the past eight years, and the couple have enjoyed their ability to spend time together away from the city. After their trip to Spain this past spring, they were looking for a place to visit for the summer.
“We had to decide what to do in summer time and I thought about my childhood. One of the most beautiful places in world in summer time is the Northwoods of Wisconsin,” Kirk said.
So the couple decided to find a place to rent in the Lakeland area and enjoy all the area has to offer.
Part of that enjoyment was utilizing the Bearskin Trail because as a runner and athlete, Elizabeth took advantage of that trail for working out.
And in a roundabout way, it’s how Kirk’s talents were “discovered” and what has led him to the Campanile stage.
Both Kirk and Elizabeth were signed up to participate in the Bear Cupboard Run held on the Bearskin in late July, when on the morning of the race, it was announced by John Winkelman, an organizer of the run, that the man who was to sing the National Anthem did not arrive, so there would be no singing of the song to start the race.
That’s when Kirk, a trained opera singer, stepped forward.
“I’ve sung the National Anthem on ESPN as part of a live track meet ... at Madison Square Garden, I’ve had as much pressure singing it as anyone,” Kirk said.
He told Winkelman he would take care of the National Anthem, belting it out like many had never heard.
“When I was done, there were people crying,” Kirk said about the experience.
The next day, they were shopping in Trig’s when they ran into the Winkelmans. Asked about his story, Kirk gave him a quick rundown. Winkelman then told him that they would get him in touch with Woody Woodruff, the executive director at the Campanile Center for the Arts.
Woodruff called Kirk the next day and they met. Woodruff booked him on the spot for tonight’s show and that was when Kirk also said that any money he would earn would be donated to the lung cancer foundation.
And it won’t be just any show. You see Kirk’s life experiences as a venture capitalist, a technology consultant, a rock band manager and even his foray into the world of politics have prepared him well for the stage.
Before his wife was diagnosed with cancer last October, Kirk had been working as an opera singer, having been employed at regional companies around New York City and also spending time with companies in Europe.
But it won’t be all opera you will hear tonight from the Campanile stage.
“It will be everything that I like to sing. I’ll be doing some opera arias, but I’ll also be doing some spirituals, some musical theater,” he said.
Over the past couple of weeks, he has found an accompanist, Anne Applegate, and has had a couple of rehearsals in preparation for the show.
In addition, because he and his wife have enjoyed their stay in the Northwoods over the past couple of months, they want to make this area their base and have put in an offer on a home on Mid Lake.
And they continue to enjoy life.
“We’ve been happy wanderers lately,” Kirk said.
It also gives him a chance to do what he loves to do ... sing.
“I’ve never done anything like this before since we’ve been traveling. We’ve never stayed in one place long enough.”
While Elizabeth’s cancer is still a heavy part of their lives, her recovery has also given them a new lease on life and allowed them to face the battle together.
“You gotta live. We feel a little guilty for not working, but when something like this happens, you have to focus on what’s important. You have to spend as much time as you can with the ones you love.”
Raymond T. Rivard may be reached at email@example.com.