The cancer was back.
After breaking his leg in February 2007, doctors discovered cancer eating away at his bone. They started him on chemotherapy soon after, and for the better part of six months, Tisdale endured nausea, infection, fatigue and more.
He finished chemo late in the year, and as his strength and his spirits returned, he went back on the road. People told him how much better he looked, how much peppier he seemed.
How could the cancer return?
How could he do more chemo?
"How can you gear up to get that sick again?” he said.
Tisdale started chemo again at M.D. Anderson, the renowned cancer center in Houston. There, he saw this disease at its core. There, he saw it at its worst.
A patient without a nose, lost to cancer.
A patient going through chemo alone.
"We’d share blankets sometimes in the waiting room because we were so cold,” Tisdale said.
"I saw ground zero.”
"I needed to see that.”
But even with that perspective, it didn’t always make Tisdale’s battle any easier. There were those days when he would struggle to get out of bed. He might make it to the couch, maybe eat a little bit, but then, all he’d want to do was go back to bed.
That is when the music stopped.
"When that happened, my wife got worried,” Tisdale said.
Regina Tisdale, after all, knew the hours that her husband devoted to his music. If she ever wondered where he was, she almost always found him in his studio.
"Are you coming to bed tonight?” she often asked.
Tisdale still wasn’t feeling well when he started playing again, but he’d make his way to the studio and start tinkering with something. A melody. A beat.
"The next thing you know, the adrenaline’s flowing,” he said. "The music would take my mind off everything.
"I worked through so much after that.”
And when the doctors told him that the chemo wasn’t working, that the cancer was still in his leg and that amputation might be the way to go, Tisdale found his strength in faith and family. But his outlet was music.
Tisdale’s mother, Deborah, reminded him of that gift.
"The cancer could’ve been anywhere,” she told him. "It could’ve been in your arms. It could’ve hindered you from what you were doing. This will slow you down, but it’s not going to stop you.”
An amazing comeback
Wayman Tisdale has always tried to play music that makes people feel better.
Turns out, his music had the same effect on him.
Tisdale, who was scheduled to play Saturday at the All-College Classic but decided earlier this week he wasn't ready to return to the stage, plans to return to the road next month. He will host a week-long smooth jazz cruise that will tour the Caribbean and feature some of jazz’s biggest names.
"You won’t hear me playing no sad song, I’ll tell you that,” Tisdale said, flashing that familiar smile. "That’s going to be time to rejoice and celebrate.
"Every time I get on the music stage now, that’s a time to rejoice and celebrate.”
Jenni Carlson: 475-3314; firstname.lastname@example.org; Carlson can be heard Monday-Friday from 3-6 p.m. on KEBC-AM 1340.