Carol Jarvis - how music helped me cope with cancer

Michael Bolton, Carol and Seal

Michael Bolton, Carol and Seal - Credit: Archant

The Bollington-based trombonist says music helped her cope when she was stricken by cancer, aged just 26. Janet Reeder reports

Carol playing the trombone

Carol playing the trombone - Credit: Archant

She’s the remarkable musician who has who has travelled all over the world with stars such as Seal, Bon Jovi, Michael Bolton and Sting but Carol Jarvis is also an incredibly brave young woman who has spent the last decade battling cancer.

The Bollington-based trombonist and keyboard player admits she was ‘probably in denial’ when aged 26 she was diagnosed with stage 2a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

In fact, she carried on touring between each failed treatment sporting a range of colourful headgear when she lost her hair during chemo.

‘My prognosis got really, really bad. They told me I was resistant to chemotherapy and I had to rely on any new clinical trial that was offered to me,’ reveals the musician called ‘astonishing’ by the critics.

Carol at home in Bollington

Carol at home in Bollington - Credit: Archant

‘There was one experimental drug called CHT 25 which had radioactive iodine attached to it, so I had to remain in a lead-lined room for eight days at the Royal free Hospital with no human contact as I was considered too radioactive. I registered 65 on the Geiger counter (a normal person reads roughly 0.03).’

Carol, a former student at the RNCM was living in Salford at the time of her treatment but relocated to the glorious Cheshire countryside to boost her chances of fighting the disease.

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‘All the treatments were failing,’ she explains.

‘And one of the nurses suggested that maybe a move to the countryside would help me fight the disease’.

As luck would have it, she became one of only 22 people worldwide to trial a drug called Adcetris and it worked. A PET scan after a fourth dose showed that Carol was finally in metabolic remission. She had two more doses while the hospital searched for a bone marrow donor and thanks to the Anthony Nolan Bone Marrow Register a match was found - 43-year-old man living in Berlin.

Part of her treatment involved changing to her donor’s blood group and she had full transfusions every two weeks as well as learning to walk again but now she’s living life to the full as a much-in demand musician.

‘Somebody sent me a message via my website asking my advice. I said “to be honest my biggest piece of advice is to try to keep some normality. It is so easy to get caught up in being ill.” I was lucky as my own way of escaping was work,’ she says.

‘Of course I was losing weight and losing my hair but when I was up on stage I felt alive. I just had to ignore what was happening to me and get on with life.’

Life for Carol involves touring with Seal on and off for five to six years and Sting. She starred in the Brit Awards with Muse and did the Royal Variety Show with Bon Jovi. She’s worked with Corinne Bailey Rae and arranges music for West End shows - the latest of which is the smash hit musical Gypsy - an incredible achievement considering her health issues.

She says she was 10 years old when she told her dad she’d like to play the trombone - or ‘that slidey thing’ as she called it and career-wise has never looked back.

‘I actually have no idea where I had seen one before but it must have impressed me,’ she says.

‘Trombone players are classed as an endangered species - there aren’t many of us - so I was out working every night of the week. It is even rarer for a woman to take up the trombone. I’d say there were only a handful in my profession, so I am always in work.’

Close proximity to the orchestras based in Manchester such as the Halle and BBC Philharmonic influenced her choice of living in the city following her training at the RNCM and Trinity Laban Conservatoire.

‘ I really like the feel of Manchester and I love living in Bollington,’ she says.

‘I’ve been there since 2006, it is close to the hospital, has easy links down to London where I also have a home and it is really beautiful.’

She doesn’t know what the future will hold but she says she’s allowing herself to look ahead again.

Says Carol: ‘It is important to live in the ‘now’ and that is something I have done for such a long time, so it’s nice to plan ahead, which is something I never imagined I would be able to do.’

The album Smile by Carol Jarvis is sold for the benefit of Macmillan Cancer Support and is available worldwide.

Find out more about Carol and her work at