“Her persistent fatigue was beginning to make playing, which has always been a welcome release, a source of anxiety. She worried about her health, but looked so well that friends accused her of hypochondria; they told her, and she told herself, that her weariness originated in her mind. She kept smiling, and tried to ignore it, but it was as real – and as invisible, except to her – as the perspiration she went to such lengths to conceal.”
Jacqueline du Pré: a Biography, Carol Easton
I meant to write something last month on the occasion of Jacqueline’s birthday (she would have been 70) but January was a really busy and stressful month for me and I didn’t find the peace and quiet. But better belated than never. Jacqueline was/is one of the most celebrated cellists of all time, but her career was cut way too short due to multiple sclerosis. At the time of her diagnosis she considered suicide, but decided to fight til the end. Sadly, she had a very aggressive type of MS and spent her last years in an almost vegetative state.
That makes me think we have come a long way and have a lot to be thankful for. Nowadays there are drugs meant to slow down disease progression. Although these don’t work for everybody and come with a lot of side effects, they are still improving life for many MS sufferers. These days we also have a greater understanding of the disease and can try to manage it through a multidisciplinary approach that wasn’t available some years ago. Some years ago doctors didn’t even recognize that MS can not only bring all sorts of physical issues, but also cognitive and emotional ones, which left patients feeling misunderstood and unable to be cared for the way they needed. And of course, nowadays we have the internet, which connects us to each other and enables us to share experiences and tips and to see the bigger picture. Although sometimes I despair – I mean, I had a relapse in September and have been waiting almost since then to move to a more effective drug – I also know about all the clinical trials going on and know that we have a lot to look forward to.
I didn’t care much for classical music until I saw and heard Jacqueline playing. She played with such passion and fierceness – with such life – that she immediately drew me in. I saw Yo-Yo Ma play his version of the Elgar Cello Concerto and, with all due respect, he played it like a little girl, whereas Jacqueline played it like a man. It’s a shame all that talent was lost to an utterly incomprehensible disease. But we know her legacy lives on.