Ottawa

Cornwall cancer patient's got a friend in James Taylor

The American singer/songwriter sent a special video message to fan Darrell Johnson, who's been diagnosed with glioblastoma. A nurse at the hospice where Johnson is living tracked the musician down.

Singer/songwriter wishes Darrell Johnson 'good vibes' via video message

Singer/songwriter James Taylor sent a special video message to fan Darrell Johnson, who's been diagnosed with glioblastoma and often listens to Taylor's music. 0:35

A man dealing with a terminal form of brain cancer at a Cornwall, Ont., hospice has received a special greeting from none other than American singer/songwriter James Taylor.

A tenacious nurse at Carefor Hospice managed to contact Taylor after discovering just how much his music means to resident Darrell Johnson, 59.

Hi Darrell, it's James Taylor here in western Massachusetts, just sending you good vibes.

Johnson, a former McGill University professor and father of two teenagers, was diagnosed with glioblastoma in November 2018. He underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation to treat the aggressive cancer, but after suffering a stroke, moved into the hospice in September.

In December, CBC visited the hospice to find out how it's using virtual reality headsets as a form of therapy to help residents deal with depression and boredom.

Johnson, an avid canoeist and camper, watched immersive videos of northern lights in Norway and paddling in Algonquin Park. When he grew tired, he asked to listen to Taylor's 1968 hit Carolina in My Mind. Johnson hummed along and moved his hands expressively while the song played.

'Time's a-wasting'

"It was almost tangible in the air that he really loves this artist ,and it brought him such joy and happiness," said nurse Sandy Bertrand, who witnessed that moment.

'It took just one minute to bring joy like that,' said Carefor Hospice nurse Sandy Bertrand. (Sandy Bertrand)

Bertrand tried twice last November to contact Taylor through his website, but heard nothing back. Undaunted, she reached out to Taylor through Twitter in early January.

"I've never done anything like this before," Bertrand said. "I asked him if he would reach out to someone who is a big fan and needs a bit of uplifting to clear the depression side of the disease." 

A few days layer, Taylor's assistant contacted Bertrand with an offer of a hat or T-shirt.

"What is a gentleman here going to do with a hat?" Bertrand recalls thinking. "As graciously as I could, I said ... 'What about a video clip saying thank you for being a fan for 50 years?'" 

With no response, she tweeted again: "Are you there? Time's a-wasting."  

Big surprise

Bertrand was eating breakfast at home Tuesday when the 30-second video message from Taylor arrived in her inbox.

"Hi Darrell, it's James Taylor in western Massachusetts, just sending you good vibes," the 71-year-old singer said, smiling. "Sandy told me about your situation, and that you were listening to my music and enjoying it, and I thought I I'd just throw in a good word. Thanks to Sandy for making me aware of it, and all my best to you. Thanks for listening, Darrell." 

Staff at Carefor Hospice in Cornwall, Ont., recorded Johnson's reaction to the video. (supplied, Carefor Hospice in Cornwall )

"I teared right up," Bertrand said. "It was like Christmas. It was one of my best days."

When she arrived at the hospice, Bertrand told Johnson she had a surprise for him.

Staff at the hospice recorded Johnson's reaction as he received the message from the five-time Grammy-winner.

While he understands most of what's said to him, Johnson's verbal responses are now limited. As he watched the video he placed his hand on his chest, indicating he was touched.

"Yes," he repeated several times, then blew a kiss. 

"My heart just zoomed, it was lovely," Bertrand said. "It took just one minute to bring joy like that." 

When someone asked Johnson if he wanted to watch the video again, he replied immediately: "Yes."

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