Roswell patients finding strength, support through music

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)– It was another day for Dan Zotara – his back had been bothering him for a few weeks; he feet were swelling but he wasn’t too worried. He went to the chiropractor, thinking he would have something adjusted and he’d be on his way. What happened next was a whirlwind, according to Zotara. He was sent to the emergency room, they took an x-ray and then sent him to Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

A few days later – the call came.

“You can never really prepare yourself for actually hearing it come out of someone’s mouth that you have cancer,” said Zotara.

Zotara and longtime friend, Michael Cassinelli spend a lot of time together in and out of Roswell. They’re both battling sarcoma, a type of cancer that spreads through the blood.

“It’s hard to describe,” says Cassinelli. “It’s like a constant battering of your soul.”

“I have stage four cancer,” says Zotara. “There is no stage five. There’s no going backwards.”

The two were diagnosed within a month of each other, Michael in February; Dan in March. Since then, they’ve gone through a lot. Michael has had 13 surgeries; Dan went through 6 rounds of chemo and 33 radiation treatments.

“I can’t run from what I’m going through. I have to embrace it,” said Dan. “I have to be strong.”

They’re finding that strength at Roswell thought music.

“It helps my attitude,” says Zotara. “It’s going to give me a better way to carry myself and more confidence and a way and will to go through and fight this.”

Everyday at Roswell, musicians play in the atrium; a chorus of chords echoing through the grand entrance.

“It’s magical – it brings a smile to your face.”

“They were gracious enough to come and let me play,” said Michael, who has been playing guitar and singing for almost 33 years. “That has been just as much a part of my healing process as the medical feature.”

Michael volunteers his time to this program, spending an hour a week, opening his guitar case, and heart, playing and singing for other patients.

“It allows me to connect with other people and bypass all the garbage in our heads,” said Michael.

“Michael gets it; he gets it,” said Dan of his friend.

“It puts feelings and emotions into words that I don’t necessarily have the words for,” said Michael.

This is a journey the two friends never thought they’d take together, but one they’re thankful they’re not taking alone as they find support and strength through music and each other.

“In a situation which normally would be doom and gloom, it makes you feel at peace and give you hope.”

Michael underwent a skin graph in mid-December; he’s hopeful this will be his last surgery. He discovered his cancer after seeing a dermatologist to check out a cyst on his head.

Dan will have another test completed in January. His football-sized tumor has shrunk. He says he feels well and all is going as it should. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review. Note: Comments containing links are not allowed.

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