By Maria Sherman
March 21, 2017

Last Halloween, my mom was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer. In the scope of diagnoses, it’s more terrifying than life-threatening: she needed an immediate tumorectomy with further evaluations to follow. Soon we learned that though her cancer was in the earliest of four definable stages, it was progressing quickly and she would need to undergo chemotherapy, with radiation to follow at a later date.

My mom is a pediatrician, a great one, a true empath: at her moment of diagnosis she cried, then focused her energy on her beloved Westie who passed days prior—not her own physical health. When she began undergoing weekly chemotherapy appointments, she asked to move them to Saturdays so she could continue seeing her own patients in a different hospital on weekdays. When she feels weak, she’s unafraid of saying so, but makes sure to express that she is lucky and that there are others who are much worse off.

She’s right, but it took me a while to see it. We both share a flair for passion and when things get dark, a temporary sort of fatalism. I felt helpless, as a lot of people do when their loved ones are sick, but not hopeless. I wanted to do something, so as a music journalist I did what I had the resources and social capital to do—I turned an annual birthday show into a benefit.

In early 2013, I organized a small concert around my 21st birthday at a former live music venue called 285 Kent in the hip neighborhood of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York. The space was little more than a converted factory room that a few committed weirdos had turned into an epicenter of New York City nightlife. As a young person invested in the underground music community, I frequented the spot and befriended its staff and patrons.

I called it Indie Pop Prom. The idea was simple: 20- and 30-somethings would show up in ill-fitting thrift store suits and gowns to attend a rock show. All the bands booked would prominently feature women—guitar-based music has always been a dude’s game, and in some small way, I was hoping to subvert that. It was a success, inspiring the New York Times to review it under the headline ‘Independent Women Celebrate Genres That Never Went Away.’ It became apparent that Indie Pop Prom had the potential to become an annual event. I went to work.

Last month, IPP celebrated its fifth year. I’ve since relocated to Philadelphia, where Indie Pop Prom made its debut on Friday, February 24. A New York date followed on Saturday. The dual-party festival-vibe made it noteworthy, as did its anniversary, but because it was my first event since my mom’s diagnosis, I turned it into a breast cancer charity event in her honor. All proceeds were donated to the Pink Fund, a nonprofit organization that offers financial assistance to low-income breast cancer patients. Like my mom said, she is lucky, and there are others who are much worse off.

Indie Pop Prom has always been something a select group of music dorks look forward to, but this year it felt new and important, like the first time, but larger. It became something proactive instead of simply representational. It became significant.

The first night went over surprisingly well. Bringing a New York event to a new city, Philadelphia, was nerve-wracking, but no one dismisses a good cause. A packed room was well-enough to inspire tears and I would be a liar if I said a friend wasn’t on tissue duty.

The second night had more of a direct emotional impact, though. The city I had just abandoned came out in droves to support both an event its grown to love and a cause it chose to support. Sometime before New York City’s the Pains of Being Pure at Heart closed out the night, a good friend of mine revealed that he lost his mother to breast cancer 17 years ago to the day. I was floored and held back my own tears; people were identifying with the event in ways much more intimate than I had ever anticipated. Considering breast cancer is an illness that effects one in eight U.S. women, it’s easy to see why these gigs meant so much to so many.

The concert was an all ages event, too, and young girls escorted by their mothers made sure to contribute additional donations. Each band took the time to share their gratitude for the event while on stage, stressing the importance of taking something we all would’ve done anyway and making it more meaningful.

The funny thing about a charity event, I learned that evening: it’s really hard to tell how much people are donating. It’s not like I was feverishly asking the door guys for a headcount number and then whipping out my calculator to do on the spot estimates. I figured at most, we may have cracked a hundred dollars – if we were lucky, a thousand. I would have felt proud with any amount, but as we know, it’s pretty easy to put your self-worth on a dollar amount. I just wanted the amount to be something that wasn’t embarrassing.

Between ticket sales and a PayPal account set up for those who couldn’t physically attend, we raised $7,200 over the weekend—a number that exceeded my wildest expectations.

When I told my mom about the money we raised, she cried immediately—she knew what I was doing, but had no idea of the scope. Never one to be at a loss for words, her appreciation left her mute. It made me realize that if I could do something this spectacular with the help of some spectacular friends, anyone can—and should. I can’t see myself continuing the Indie Pop Prom tradition and not giving the proceeds to charity. My mom wouldn’t let me.

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