Meet Megan Cavallari, the Composer Who's Helping Terminally Ill Children Speak Up
The Talk Foundation Project encourages terminally ill kids to express themselves — any way they'd like.
Megan Cavallari has a list of accomplishments a mile long — for starters, she's a highly successful composer in an industry dominated by men (she says fewer than .5% of composers are women). She's credited with over 100 film scores as performer, arranger, conductor, or composer; she's been the official composer for the L.A. Kings for a decade; she's written music for over 25 TV shows, and we could go on and on and on.
Somewhere in all of her career endeavors, she also finds time in her personal life to play on a men's ice hockey team, run marathons, and helm The Talk Foundation Project, which gives chronically ill children a way to express themselves.
With some basic digital recording technology (and in accordance with procedures developed with leading child psychiatrists), Cavallari visits with terminally ill children and allows them to talk, about whatever they want. They can laugh, cry, scream, tell stories — anything goes. She then gives the recording to the patient and their family. It's simple, really, but the final product is priceless.
Cavallari was motivated to create the project in part because she's the mother of an 11-year-old daughter with debilitating juvenile arthritis. “She’s really my role model – kids tend to look at the bright side of things, so I learn a lot from them," she said.
We chatted with Cavallari about The Talk Foundation Project and how it's changed her life and the lives of her participants.
Livingly: Why is it so important for these children to be able to participate in the program?
"When a child has a chronic illness, or is fighting cancer or some other disease, they feel out of control. Their lives are about doctors, hospitals, chemotherapy, injections, constant blood work — you name it, these patients have been through it. I am there to give them back control for a while. Nothing they say is wrong. They can talk about the past, present or future. They can sing a song. They can thank people. They are in complete control of the process and they love it. It changes their lives because it makes them feel like a person not a patient or a sick child with a bald head from all the chemo etc.
The families love it. I may be there for just an hour but many times I am invited back to visit. It is like I am part of the family. In some sad cases where the child did not survive, the parents may have lunch with me or call me and say I captured not only the voice of their child but their essence and they are so thankful. I am humbled by that."
How does the project work?
"It is simple. People in Los Angeles and Orange County go to my web site and email me or call and I send them information. They fill out a small form so I know a little about the patient. We decide on a time. I show up. The patient talks. I record them and give them a CD. Knowing a little bit about the patient helps. But I think I am just present with them and they get that right away. I have never had a patient not be able to talk. They have so much to say."
What's the biggest lesson you've learned since you started the project?
"Children and teenagers are so much wiser then we think. They are really strong, courageous and still able to laugh even in the worse conditions. As adults we complain a lot more."
How did your career mold the idea for the project?
"I am a film and TV composer professionally so I write and mix nearly every day. I configured a portable recording studio with my lab top so I could record patients live and create CDs for them on the spot. Without my knowledge of recording I would not know how to do this."
Have there been any unexpected results from the project?
"Many patients ask me back. Many families sort of adopt me. I go to birthday parties, see them in hospitals. For some reason the patients grow attach to me in one session. We have a deep spiritual connection. Maybe they haven't laughed in a long time."
How has the project changed your life? Your daughter's?
"My daughter Shoshie has juvenile arthritis and deals with chronic pain everyday. I know what these parents are going through. I speak their language. They trust me immediately. My daughter is happy I am doing something to help sick children and teenagers because she's been through procedures like chemo and they are scary. She talks to me every day. I know I started this foundation because it was missing in hospitals where we were."
How did the idea for The Talk Foundation Project come about?
"I came up with The Talk Foundation when I was part of monthly member of a lunch group at the Jewish Federation in Los Angeles. It was for people in the business (Hollywood) who had formed foundations and people who worked for them. The wonderful Steve Price ran it. When I thought about the foundation I wanted to form, over ten years ago, I knew it had to do with sound and helping children and teenagers, two things I was passionate about. Currently it takes place in people's houses but I am interviewing at Children's Hospital Los Angeles to see if I can get a hospital space."
How do you see the project evolving over time?
"I would like it to go global. I think big."
How can people help?
"I am looking for a hospital in Los Angeles to run the foundation from so if this looks like something you think your hospital should get please help! Talk to doctors and social workers about it. Until then, if anyone need me, go to me web site and it would be an honor to let you child or teenager TALK to me."