An outpouring of support — and music — filled the Steven Talkhouse in Amagansett Friday night at a benefit for Cheryl Bennett and Michael Mazzaraco, an East Hampton couple who have been besieged by the complications and costs of breast cancer.
Ms. Bennett, the mother of two young girls, underwent a seven-hour double mastectomy and partial reconstruction surgery on July 3. All the breast tissue and 30 lymph nodes from her right arm were removed, and she has been receiving chemotherapy treatments since August, which will continue for the next two or three months.
The last thing she expected, she said this week, was a diagnosis of breast cancer in June, eight months after giving birth. “Imagine taking care of a baby and going through breast cancer at the same time,” she said. After the surgery she could neither lift the baby nor drive to her five-days-a-week medical appointments.
Mr. Mazzaraco, the head sound engineer at the Talkhouse, became the full-time caregiver for Ms. Bennett and her daughters, which made things financially difficult, she said. “We are grateful that his boss and the staff were understanding about the time he had to take off,” she said. “They have always treated us like a part of their family.”
The type of breast cancer Ms. Bennett had is called “estrogen plus.” Considered “postpartum breast cancer,” it affects women within five years after giving birth due to elevated estrogen levels during pregnancy. She said she was fortunate that it was the “HER2” type which is not aggressive, although it did invade three of the 30 lymph nodes removed.
Ms. Bennett’s cousin Jaime Castantine started planning the benefit in July when she saw how intense the surgery and recovery would be. Musicians and business owners came to her aid, with donations of money, food, gift cards for gas, time, and raffle donations.
“I am thankful for the generosity of this community,” Ms. Bennett said.
“I was scared out of my mind when I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” Ms. Bennett said, “especially being so young and having my girls who are also very young.” The girls are now 1 and 9 years old. Frightened and uncertain, she said she frantically researched breast cancer online, engrossed for hours in other women’s detailed diaries. “As sad as it was,” she said, “it was inspiring to know that other women have gone through this and survived.” She also had encouragement and support of an aunt, Sarah Scainetti of East Hampton, who was treated for a more aggressive form of breast cancer when she was 35 years old, and is alive and well 12 years later.
Complications that came after surgery included, Ms. Bennett said, “an antibiotic-associated bacteria infection in my intestines.” Apparently caused by the antibiotic Cipro, it took months to eradicate. “It is at bay as of now but can come back at anytime, especially during chemotherapy,” she said, “It is one of my worst fears other than the cancer.”
“I am also dealing with another infection in my tooth that flared up during chemo,” she said, due to the chemotherapy’s suppression of her immune system. She saw an oral surgeon which cost over a $1,000 just to have the problem diagnosed, she said.
Among the musicians who came out Saturday was Tali Icepack Jackson, who called Mr. Mazzacaro a fine and caring person. Randolph Hudson, another performer, agreed, saying that Mr. Mazzacaro was “one of the most talented musicians and performers in the Hamptons. . . always willing to jump in to help others.”
Across the street at Crossroads Music, Michael D. Clark, the owner, contributed guitars to be auctioned, which “brought in a couple of thousand dollars,” he said. He also keeps a container for donations and is selling raffle tickets for an Oct. 31 drawing.
“It is just unbelievable that musical community, who don’t make a whole lot of money in the first place, always jump up and say ‘I’ll help’ for fellow East Enders.” The help, unfortunately, is “small potatoes compared to what Cheryl and Michael are going through,” he said.
Ms. Bennett said she appreciated the aid, which will help pay for medical expenses that weren’t covered by her insurance and for traveling expenses. She said the Stony Brook University Medical Center and Southampton Oncologists did not accept her insurance, so she travels to the North Shore Hematology and Oncology Associates for treatment. Additional reconstruction surgery, possible radiation treatment, various medications, and hormone therapy to stop her body from producing estrogen are all in her future.
“I found the Care for Cher benefit to be one of the more electric and joyous nights,” Abigail Levin, a performer and friend, said in an e-mail. She called the musical community here a “supremely supportive family network.”
Mick Hargreaves, a musician who was on the receiving end of a benefit himself a little over a year ago, said the event was “quite an emotional experience for me . . . a very powerful reminder of the immense positive power people can have when they gather to help someone is in need.” Glad that he is “still around to play and sing to help in a musical fashion,” he expressed gratitude to those involved and to “the Talkhouse for continuing to be the musical church where we gather.”
Another event for a community member in need will take place on Wednesday at Ashawagh Hall, where art and other items will be sold to raise funds for Tim Lee, a Springs resident, photographer, lighting designer, and antiques dealer, who was diagnosed in December with stage 4 esophageal cancer. After three months of chemotherapy, followed by another two months of radiation and chemotherapy, he has been unable to work, and his health insurance was canceled midway through his treatment. The food, drinks, and music by Nancy Atlas and Friends will serve as a celebration, he said, as he looks forward to regaining his health again.
“The situation Cheryl and Mazz are in is all too common unfortunately,” said Mr. Hudson. “It is fortunate that we have a strong and supportive musical community willing to help each other . . . as the Beatles sang, ‘The love you take is equal to the love you make.’ ”