Season of Sharing helps Marin County artist recover after cancer

Cancer survivor, jazz singer and fitness-dance instructor Christina Quinn finds tranquil surroundings at Leapond in Corte Madera. She received assistance from Season of Sharing. Photo: Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle

Christina Quinn is a dancer. She’s a jazz singer. A fitness teacher. An empath. And after seeing the results of a follow-up mammogram in June, she calls herself a survivor.

“I’m grateful to find out that I’m breast cancer-free,” said Quinn, who also goes by Zeena.

Now, she wants to go back to school to finish up her communications degree. In the spring of next year, she’ll re-release her album, “Going My Way,” a collection of jazz covers that originally dropped just before the coronavirus pandemic shut down live music.

And she wants to keep teaching fitness and dance. Her favorite class, which she described as a “round-trip ticket around the world,” incorporates Afro-Brazilian samba, tango, Bollywood, disco and hula — and that’s just a few of the styles, all in one hour.

It’s been a long road to recovery for the Marin County artist, and with the help of others, including the donors at The Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund, she hasn’t felt entirely alone through it all.

“I’m supposed to be around a long time, I guess,” Quinn said. “This must be God’s way of making sure.”

It all started a year and a half ago, with a request from a doctor at Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae.

“Could you stay a few minutes longer?” they asked Quinn. She hasn’t forgotten the sinking feeling.

“It’s like sitting in the dentist’s office when you know you have to have all your teeth pulled,” she said.

On that day in June 2019, everything was put on hold. The primary surgery to remove the tumor in her breast would be in August, radiation treatment in October and November and, barring chemotherapy, a winter of recovery and prayer.

Quinn lived in Novato and taught dance and fitness at two health clubs, booking classes right up until the week of her surgery.

Three days before, she got a notice from her landlord to terminate the lease at her apartment.

Quinn, who also goes by Zeena, says: “I’m grateful to find out that I’m breast cancer-free.” Photo: Liz Hafalia  / The Chronicle

The radiation treatment meant she no longer had the energy to teach fitness, and days were spent petitioning to delay the eviction, researching colleges to jump-start a more stable career and vying for public resources to make rent.

“It was overwhelming,” Quinn said. “Somehow managing my bills with no income. … It’s been a crazy balance of life. Every month, at the middle of the month, I had to start finding ways to get things.”

The surgery and radiology were successful, and nearly nine months after her diagnosis, Quinn secured a new apartment in San Anselmo. It was March, and she was finally getting back to work again, but statewide shelter-in-place orders shuttered all health clubs.

April rent was due in a few weeks.

Quinn met with Sara Hunt, a social worker at the Ritter Center in San Rafael, a nonprofit care provider and mediator helping people find housing in Marin County. Hunt connected Quinn to Season of Sharing, which works to prevent homelessness and hunger in the Bay Area. All donations go directly to help people in need, with administrative costs covered by The Chronicle and the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund.

Through the fund, Quinn got the relief that she’d been searching for. The organization paid for her April rent. For a moment, she’d be OK. She had a roof over her head. She could breathe again.

“I knew I could just go home and hide,” Quinn said. “I could cry … I didn’t have to be to work. I didn’t have to do anything.”

Unfortunately, Quinn’s is an all-too-common story, Hunt said. Living in Marin County is prohibitively expensive, and many of her clients, particularly seniors with dwindling social networks, find themselves with nowhere to turn. Navigating a vast landscape of care providers can also feel like working a full-time job, she said.

“I remember talking to (Quinn) about how she feels like there’s so many things she needs, and she didn’t know where to start,” Hunt said. “She’s done a really good job of advocating for herself, and being able to find what she needs.”

During the pandemic, the fund has been particularly valuable for clients who don’t meet federal requirements for help, Hunt said.

“A lot of the other services are very straightforward — financially someone qualifies or they don’t,” Hunt said, adding that Season of Sharing provides more opportunities for people in need. “What I’ve learned from years of doing financial assistance is that almost anybody can get into a predicament where they owe more than they have.”

Now, Quinn is looking forward. She’ll start teaching an early-morning barre-fusion class with a friend, which she enjoys because it requires intensive focus.

“I enjoy waking up to it,” Quinn said. She can “feel myself again and be back in my body.”

But it’s the music that got her through cancer. Reception has been positive for “Going My Way” — it got a recommendation from the national music blog “All About Jazz” and is featured on the playlist library for jazz radio station KCSM-FM.

Awaiting the day that music venues reopen, she rehearses every week to keep her voice up.

“It’s saving my soul to sing or play out loud,” she said.

Mozes Zarate is an assistant editor for The San Francisco Chronicle’s Datebook section. Email: Twitter: @MozesZarate

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