A Picture of Hope: Abigail Henderson fights cancer – and rallies musicians for health care 

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Henderson's scrappy, drawling alto is as strong as ever. To her side, her husband, Chris Meck, bends the strings of his Fender and sings backup.

The Gaslights' rhythm section is on fire. Seasoned local soldiers Erik Voeks on bass and Ryan Johnson on drums joined in the spring, filling holes left by longtime drummer Glen Hockemeier and temporary bassist Bill Sundahl, both of whom left after the Gaslights' second European tour, in December 2007.

When the show is over, Henderson stands outside on the sidewalk amid a swarm of friends and a pile of instruments. She asks Meck if he minds bringing the van over himself. "Pleeeease? I have cancer," she coos.

Now, five weeks later, Henderson and Meck are finishing lunch in a booth at McCoy's. It's a sunny mid-October afternoon. Two packs of Orbit gum sit on the table in front of them. In July, both of these heavy smokers quit pretty much cold turkey.

Around the same time, the couple lost what might have been the two best heads of hair in Missouri. Looking like a character from the sleeve of an old Little Feat record, Meck had sported modestly long brown hair that went perfectly with his blue eyes, shrugging good looks and denim-and-boots wardrobe. Henderson's straight blond locks spilled all around her guitar when she played.

Meck's hair is now a 1-inch crew cut. He was the first of several of Henderson's friends to shave his head in solidarity after the diagnosis. Henderson wears the short-billed cap that has become her most popular accessory of late. She pulls it off — "I look like a baby egret!" she says — and reveals a wispy halo of white-blond hair.

It's a good sign.

Earlier on this day, she posted the following:

July seems like a hundred years ago. I halfway expected to be some sad shell of myself at this point, having to be carried in and out of cars wrapped in an old checkered blanket, sipping Ensure out of a straw, having adopted some post-Dickensian mode of speech. ("Thanks Gov'nr. R'membr you 'n 'Eaven, they will.") No. All has changed and every thing's the same....

I have a super militant haircut, but I was super-militant anyway.

Later in the evening, as usual, Henderson and Meck will report to work: Meck to Davey's Uptown where he tends bar, Henderson to Fred P. Ott's on the Plaza, where she continues to wait tables even though she has undergone four of her eight scheduled chemo treatments. In January, she will undergo a mastectomy, followed by radiation therapy.

Working through adversity is a fact of life for serious musicians.

"People just can't get sick when they play music," Henderson says. "Here's how it works: If you're a midlevel band, you don't make that much money. There are four, five, six people in your band, so whatever money you make on the road or from record sales — if you're actually putting back into the band like a small business would — at least 20 percent is going back into the business, and the rest of it's paid out, and nobody can live on that. So everybody's got another job."

These jobs, Henderson says, are mostly in the food-service industry, waiting tables wherever the schedule is flexible and the tips are decent. The hours — usually fewer than 30 a week — don't come with health insurance. So Henderson bought her own insurance just months before she found out about her disease.

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