Chicago saxophonist Sharel Cassity marks comeback from tough illness

Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

CHICAGO -- If you listen to Chicago saxophonist Sharel Cassity's compelling new album, the aptly named "Fearless," you never would know how ill she was when she recorded it.

Her tone sounds full, her technique nimble, the joy of her music-making unmistakable.

But just a few weeks before the recording sessions in July 2019, Cassity received a diagnosis for why she had felt so sick for the past year: post-Lyme disease.

In February 2019, "I started getting numb hands, numb feet -- severely," says Cassity. "My hands were getting very stiff. I was constantly tired. You feel like you're covered with rocks all the time."

Some doctors said she had carpal tunnel syndrome. Others said asthma.

"What about my feet?" she asked, pointing out that those diagnoses didn't explain her numbness there.


"Well, we don't know," the doctors responded.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines Lyme disease as an illness "transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks."

"If you get a tick bite, and you're not treated within two weeks or very soon, you develop post-Lyme disease," explains Cassity. "If you have it over a year, apparently it doesn't really ever go away. It attacks your central nervous system. You get meningitis symptoms, ALS symptoms. I had points where I was limping when I walked. Or I couldn't really move my hands the way I wanted to."

But Cassity already had written the music, booked the studio time and obtained plane tickets for bassist Alex Claffy and drummer Mark Whitfield Jr. to fly here for the recording sessions. They were to join Cassity and pianist Richard Johnson, her husband, at Victorian Recording studios in Barrington.


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