FARGO-When Sarah Morrau and Bekka DeVries perform today for the Plains Art Museum's holiday concert series, it will be the 17th time in the program's 18 years they've played the gig. The only show they missed was when Morrau had the flu.
It's the favorite show of the year for the duo, Morrau the singer and DeVries the pianist.
"For Bekka and me, it's become a tradition," Morrau says. "We look forward to seeing the same people every year. It gets us in the Christmas spirit, whatever that is."
The last line may sound a little flip or dismissive, but the Christmas spirit means something different for the singer this year.
Tomorrow, less than 24 hours after one of her favorite shows of the year, she'll go to Roger Maris Cancer Center for the seventh of eight chemo treatments to battle breast cancer. After the treatments wind up at the end of the month, she'll undergo surgery and radiation.
"I feel very fortunate to be able to do this," she says of their annual show.
The date was booked early in the summer, ahead of her diagnosis at the end of August.
She called DeVries when she got the news and the pianist came to Morrau's to be with her longtime friend. They talked about Morrau's medical outlook and her plan to fight the cancer. They didn't talk about the Christmas show that day, but it came up shortly after.
"Right away from the get-go, she said, 'Let's plan on it.' This is our favorite gig we do through the whole year. We both look forward to it," DeVries says.
"The only hesitation was I didn't know how I'd feel at that time," Morrau says.
She decided to keep it on the calendar
She says she's been lucky that for the most part the chemo has been "tolerable". Acupuncture has helped and emotional and physical aid from family, friends and support systems has left Morrau overcome with gratitude.
"It's overwhelming, the amount of support," she says.
Morrau is well known in the music scene, having released a handful of albums and been involved in the annual Celebration of Women and Their Music since it began nearly 21 years ago.
She's made new friends in the process, visiting with breast cancer survivors, like the support group FM Breast Friends and reminded to live in the moment.
"It's been helpful to talk to people who have been through it," she says.
In addition to all of the outside help, she's found solace in something she's always carried with her-music. From the diagnosis through treatments, whether it's in the car or rehearsals for today's show, singing and playing music has always raised her spirits and given her strength.
"I know when I sing, I feel better. I know it's therapeutic for me to do it," she says.
Some of the songs she's been rehearsing have taken on a new depth as lyrics have given her pause.
" 'Silent Night' got me," she says, adding that "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," touches her now, especially at the line, "Let your heart be light".
"It is different this time around, though not necessarily in a bad way," says DeVries, noting they've both teared up while practicing.
Still, her spirits and energy remain up. Sitting and talking with her, you wouldn't know she was sick unless she told you or made a joke about it.
"Once you get over the initial shock, you can laugh at yourself," she says.
One thing she doesn't laugh about is insisting women check themselves regularly. She had a regular mammogram in March that didn't detect the mass because of dense breast tissue.
"Know your body and know what doesn't feel right. It's important to get checked," she says.
For now, she's just happy to have things to take her mind off the cancer, like today's show.
"There's definitely a sense of gratitude that I can do this. There's a new appreciation to doing things you took for granted, like getting out to perform," she says. "The show and life must go on. That's the reality. Life doesn't stop for you."
If You Go
What: Noon Holiday Concerts: Sarah Morrau and Bekka DeVries
When: Noon, today
Where: Plains Art Museum, 704 1st Ave., N., Fargo
Info: The concert and museum shows are free and open to the public, and food will be available for purchase.