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'Fight' song | Cancer diagnosis nearly derails Geneva singer's dreams

It has been said that the road to stardom is littered with broken hearts. That was nearly the case for Geneva resident Alyssa Parma, who experienced a devastating setback while her singing career was just getting off of the ground.

• • •

Parma started singing at the age of 2.

“From the time she started talking, she was singing,” Parma’s father, Sam, wrote. “We have a video of her singing a song about her baby sister into the mirror and making up the words as she went along ... . That was when we realized she loved to sing and be in the spotlight.” 

Over the years, Parma explored her musical prowess through songwriting and entered suburban talent competitions, such as Geneva’s Got Talent and Lombard Idol, which further cultivated her dreams of singing professionally.

At the age of 16, the pop/country crooner’s career began to take shape after she made a vital connection with one of the Lombard Idol judges, Daniel Castady. Though Parma lost the singing competition, she gained a music mentor in Castady.

“She was the only person that day who I looked at and just saw an artist,” Castady said. “... This was somebody who I could see writing a song for and helping develop – just pointing her in the right direction, because somebody did that for me when I was about her age at the time and it made all the difference.”

A member of the Grammy-nominated, Chicago-area band The Fold, Castady offered the budding singer an insider’s perspective of the music industry, having been signed in the late-’90s to Madonna’s label, Maverick Records, while he was a member of the band Showoff.

“He’s taught me a lot about the music business and how to do things the right way and introduced me to so many people,” Parma said.

But, just as things seemed to be taking off for Parma, her story took an unpredictable turn.

Just two weeks after graduating from high school, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

“When you hear ‘cancer’ you think of dying; that was my first initial fear,” said Parma.

The lump in her throat was found during a routine physical examination that was a prerequisite for college. It had gone undetected for two years.

“Our reaction was more disbelief than anything,” Parma’s father stated. “As a parent, you spend your entire life making sure that your kids are safe. ... Hearing that your child has cancer and realizing that you can’t do anything to prevent it was the hardest thing we have ever had to deal with.”

As if cancer wasn’t enough, a surgeon revealed to the family that there was a good chance that she would never sing again.

“I thought, ‘You just told me I have cancer, and now you’re going to tell me the one thing that makes me happy I can’t do anymore,” Parma said. “My reaction was to tell him, ‘Well, then who can I go to that is going to let me sing again?’”

Not singing was not an option for Parma, so the family sought the care of a University of Chicago specialist who ended up performing the surgery on her thyroid, Parma’s father stated. Life quickly became a barrage of doctor appointments, treatment plans, medications, body scans and hours spent worrying and waiting to hear whether the treatment would work.

The treatment did work. And on New Year’s Eve, Parma received the news that she was cancer free.

“I appreciate life a lot more now – just everything; all of the experiences that I have,” said Parma, adding that beating cancer has allowed her to focus on what matters most – music. “Any time I go into the studio, I feel it more than I did when I was recording previously, just because it means something more to me now, because I almost had it taken away.”

With cancer behind her, music has taken center stage in Parma’s life once again.

Her diagnosis, Castady said, gave her a boost of motivation.

“One of the things that really endeared me to her more, as we kind of peeled the onion back, that she had been going through this battle with cancer,” Castady said. “So, watching her deal with that and watching her go through something so life-changing, just her amazing attitude through it all, really made me want to work that much harder and see her vision through.”

To help see her vision through, Castady stepped in as her music producer on a collection of songs that Parma co-wrote and recorded for a seven-track country/pop crossover EP, entitled “Thank You.”

Songs from the EP, which Parma describes as Taylor Swift-esque, are being released gradually, so as to give the public multiple opportunities to discover the music, Castady said.

The single, “Thank You,” is currently available on iTunes, and “Fight” – a song inspired by her fight with cancer – will be available by early September.

In December, Parma will perform her EP during a showcase concert in Nashville, which will expose her music to record label representatives and publicists.

The concert will give Parma an opportunity to be signed to a record label, making her dream of singing professionally a reality.

“Life has a way of working itself out, and I believe that everything happens for a reason,” Parma said in a news release. “Things like cancer can either make or break you, and it’s really up to you if you want to move forward and fulfill your dreams or not. Cancer is just a small part of your life. It’s just one chapter, but it’s not your whole story.” 

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