Music and Recovery: Kendall Core’s Battle with Lyme Disease

Vortex Music Magazine

After years of being told she was losing her mind, Kendall Core lives to spread awareness of this underdiagnosed disease and will continue to do so on May 12 at Holocene alongside fellow songwriters and survivors Kyle Morton of Typhoon and Anna Hoone.

Three years ago, Kendall Core spent a week in San Diego detoxing at a health retreat, playing music she’d been writing for the last few years. For a lot of us liberal West Coasters, an experience like this could be confused with a luxurious addition to weekly yoga classes and monthly juice cleanses. This particular retreat, however, was nothing like that. In fact, Core’s life depended on it.

“At that time I thought I was dying. I mean, I was dying. If I didn’t seek treatment, I would have died,” Core explains.

It began when Core was sitting on a haystack at a small music festival in Oregon in 2014. A tick crawled onto her skin and bit her. Ticks can carry a bacteria responsible for Lyme disease, and the window of time to treat the infection is about two weeks. After that point, the bacteria spreads—like wildfire. At first, the bite looks similar to one from a spider, with or without a bullseye-shaped rash around the point of contact. As the bacteria from the tick invades the nooks and crannies of organs and joints, neurological and flu-like symptoms surface. They grow more aggressive as the disease becomes more difficult to treat.

Core woke up the next morning with rash that was “a textbook case for Lyme disease infection,” she says. She left the festival to seek out treatment. Her diagnosis made no mention of infection; the doctor said she had a tick bite and the rash should be gone in a few days.

She spent the next two years wondering if she was going insane.

“I got so sick. I was bedridden for a really long time and I didn’t know what was going on. I would go to the ER so often that they finally told me if I came back again, they’d recommend me to a psychiatrist. They just kept telling me, ‘None of your symptoms make sense with your blood panel.’”

After what felt like endless research, Core felt defeated and hopeless.

In her song “Nowhere,” she writes: “I’ve looked for answers, but there are none at all. I’m not here, I’m not there. I’m nowhere.”

It became clear that her last option was to find a Lyme-literate medical doctor who could properly understand and diagnose her symptoms. Upon her visit, she was given the Western blot test, “which misdiagnoses 70 percent of participants [testing for Lyme disease] with false negatives,” Core explains.

Fortunately for her, that was not her case. In 2016, she was the only person in Oregon recognized by the government with the diagnosis of Lyme disease. While she was relieved to gain clarity and begin the long road to recovery, she wasn’t ready to walk away from the fight for proper Lyme disease recognition.

“My story is the same as thousands of people in the Northwest. And in California. There’s not much awareness around here, but it probably affects just as many people as in the places where there’s more awareness, like the East Coast.”

Core knew her recovery relied on her motivation to research the disease, her ability to find a Lyme-literate doctor, and the rare accuracy of her test results. The other supporting factor, of course, was music. Now, she’s using the latter to support those struggling to find the former.

Her latest album Crazy Dog is a collection of songs that carried her through her darkest days of disease—and not just hers, either. Her father was diagnosed with cancer two years before she joined him at the health institute in San Diego. Core would bring her ukulele to the hospital during his treatments to help calm her fears as she watched her father maneuver through his treatment.

She reflects on this in her song “Dear Loved Ones,” which you can hear below: “Listen to those on their deathbed. There’s always too much left unsaid. This life of ours ain’t on repeat. So let’s not go down in defeat.”

Core’s father made it through the trying journey of these initial treatments. Their time together in San Diego was the first opportunity for him to witness Core sharing her music with others as she played for people at the institute—and the first time he was able to see people’s reactions. Core attributes this to be the instigator that put her in the studio to record.

“During that time, everyone was like, ‘You need to be recording these songs! You need to make an album.’ And my dad was like, ‘Let’s make this happen.’ To have his encouragement, and believing in me and my music, that meant a lot to me. Maybe these are worth sharing with the world.”

So that’s exactly what she did. Upon her return home, she recorded Crazy Dog at The Hallowed Halls with local musicians Taylor Kingman (guitar, bass), Alexis Mahler (cello), Buddy Weeks (drums), David Lipkind (harmonica) and, of course, Core on vocals and guitar. These seven songs were produced and mixed by Justin Phelps, mastered by John Baldwin and released in May 2018—see photos by Chad Lanning from the record release show at Mississippi Studios and check out a live version of the unreleased song “Let the Light” below.

Core will be playing songs from the album on Sunday, May 12 at Holocene at a benefit concert presented by Music For Mental Health along with Typhoon’s Kyle Morton and Anna Hoone, who have both been diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease. All proceeds will go to the nonprofit Oregon Lyme Disease Network, which provides financial support for children and young adults to get tested and diagnosed with tick-borne illnesses.

Join these local artists as they share their journeys with Lyme and learn more about how you can help protect yourself from Lyme disease and spread awareness about this underdiagnosed disease on Sunday, May 12 at Holocene.

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