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Friday, September 25, 2015

Musicians Rally at Castro Block Party to Help 8-Year-Old Girl Fight Brain Cancer

Posted By on Fri, Sep 25, 2015 at 12:52 PM

click to enlarge zamora.jpg
I've said it before, cancer "is a scourge of humanity; a child killer, friend stealer and all-around bastard that has touched a majority of people on the planet in its many malevolent forms." I really did say that almost a year ago to the day in this very blog, writing about a benefit concert for a friend with stage IV lymphoma. Now I'm writing a similar story about a similar fundraising event, only this time it's to help an 8-year-old girl with brain cancer.
I first met Zamora Martinez Lusinchi a couple of years ago when she started attending my kids' elementary school, the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy in San Francisco's Castro District. This was at the same time her mother, Marisa Martinez, started teaching kindergarten at the school. Zamora was a sweet, sometimes rambunctious, and willful little girl a lot like my own daughter, which gave me and Marisa plenty to talk about.

But what we ended up talking about even more was our mutual obsession with music. As I got to know her, I learned she was an accomplished violinist and guitarist who incorporated music in her teaching methods. It wasn't until our discussions turned towards her own music career that I realized I'd actually seen her perform onstage multiple times during the '90s when she played violin with guitarist Eric McFadden's band Liar. Zamora, Marisa (and eventually, Zamora's little sister Xavia) became familiar faces at Harvey Milk. Fast forward to this past July when the news came out that would bring the community together to support them both. Zamora was visiting family in France when she inexplicably began to have trouble walking and talking. An MRI led to terrible news.

Zamora was diagnosed with DIPG or diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, a fast-growing cancerous tumor at the base of the brain that is resistant to chemotherapy and almost exclusively afflicts children. She was quickly flown back to the Bay Area where she began radiation and steroid treatments to slow the growth of the tumor at Kaiser in Santa Clara and at UCSF.

When Marisa decided to take the semester off from teaching at Harvey Milk to help Zamora with her fight, friends set up a GoFundMe page to help raise money to cover the family's expenses and medical bills. The outpouring from friends and the Harvey Milk community was immediate. In less than 24 hours, donations blew past the initial goal of $42,000 to top $50,000.
click to enlarge marisa_zamora.jpg
In the weeks since then, the donations have continued, but Marisa and Zamora have found a new goal. Marisa learned of a British neurosurgeon's experimental treatment for DIPG to inject chemotherapy drugs directly into the malicious tumor. With new trials set to begin soon, the family hopes to raise enough money to be included in the trial (at a cost of $93,000 for the treatment alone) in addition to airfare and accommodations in Bristol as well as return trips for additional treatments.

Both the Harvey Milk community and Marisa's many talented musician friends will be coming together this Saturday to raise more money towards that goal with a block party. Starting at 1 p.m. on 19th Street in front of the Castro District school, the performers include Ronkat Spearman's band Katdelic doing a special acoustic set, Marisa's own reunited "siren folk metal" band Pink Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix tribute act Harold Day and the Experience, Marisa's longtime collaborator guitar virtuoso McFadden, and a headlining appearance by guitarist George Johnson.

Though best known for the hits he scored with bass-playing sibling Louis in their band the Brothers Johnson — "Get the Funk Out My Face," "Strawberry Letter 23" "Ain't We Funkin' Now" and "Stomp" to name a few — George "Lightnin' Licks" Johnson also did an enormous amount of session work, recording and touring with keyboard player Billy Preston and famed producer Quincy Jones.

This show represents a rare chance to see a true master in an intimate setting. Full disclosure: I'll also be playing records after the live music wraps up alongside local scratch master and member of the Space Travelers crew, DJ Marz. With more benefits on the horizon including an upcoming beer bust at the SF Eagle on October 3rd, Zamora's fight is far from over.   
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Dave Pehling


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