TRAVERSE CITY — By Carol South
Being a "friend in need" is tough, but Louan Lechler appreciates the support as she battles breast cancer.
The singer, songwriter, poet and artist has been involved with the creative scene in the region for nearly four decades. Diagnosed in early May, Lechler subsequently had three separate surgeries, is in the midst of chemotherapy and faces radiation next.
While she spent the summer immersed in research, decisions and treatment, her friends got busy. Longtime associates at the Leelanau Players plus other pals are throwing a benefit Sunday to raise funds in Lechler's honor.
After participating in benefits for others over the years, it's humbling to be on the other side of the guitar. But help is needed because, while she has had Medicaid coverage since the diagnosis, Lechler's income has been slashed while bills keep rolling in.
"I haven't worked in three months," said the Elk Rapids resident.
Lechler's performances and contributions span northwest Michigan, from the Leelanau Players to Songwriters in the Round, from the Traverse City Civic Players to Stone Circle. With many other performances and collaborations in between since the early 1970s, Lechler's creative spirit flowed generously.
At Stone Circle, Lechler has been a regular at the Kewadin-based weekly poetry gathering since it began 27 summers ago. In that time, founder and poet-bard Terry Wooten noted that Lechler missed only a "handful" out of the hundreds of Saturday nights.
Wooten, who anticipates emceeing the benefit, is pleased to see people joining forces to help Lechler.
"I think this is a good example of artists standing together and if anybody deserves that, she does," he said. "She's a real star at Stone Circle, a lot of people come to hear her, she's one of the highlights and I missed it a lot this year."
Despite having her life turned upside down, the veteran performer has worked hard through months of treatment to keep her spirits up and her focus upbeat.
"I just made up my mind: This wasn't going to kill me, so I can't go there, I can't be sad about it," Lechler said.
From her experience of regular self-exams and then finding a lump that a mammogram could have found earlier, Lechler has an impassioned plea for women.
"Get mammograms, let the professionals take a look," she said, noting her lump had moved around and avoided her detection. "You can mess around as much as you want at home but if I'd gotten a mammogram a few months earlier, I wouldn't have had the involvement of the lymph nodes and wouldn't have had to have chemo."
This message is made even more urgent from her experiences at appointments since the diagnosis.
"The thing that shocks me most is that every time I go for a treatment, I see a woman I know, a different one," Lechler said. "It's incredible how many women have gone through this particular thing, it's crazy."