DJ April Larken: Mom & Cancer Survivor
Posted on October 15 2019
"The worst thing that ever happened to me became the best thing that happened to me."
Tell us about yourself, your family and your life pre-cancer:
I grew up in NJ/NYC originally and have lived in Greenwich, CT for the past 10 years. I’m American and my husband Jonathan is British. Before moving to Greenwich, we lived in England for a few years. Jonathan’s job transferred him from London to Greenwich and I was thrilled to move back to America. I wanted to eventually be close to NYC again! We have two kids with dual citizenship. Ella is 12 and Jasper is 8. Both kids go to Greenwich Country Day School.
I spent 17 years in the bridal industry at designers Vera Wang and Carolina Herrera. I even worked for a private client wedding designer in London. I loved being in the bridal world and still love the fashion industry today!
How did you discover you had cancer and how did you feel when you were diagnosed?
I was 29 years old when I was diagnosed. Jonathan and I had just gotten married 6 months earlier and I started having these nagging asthma symptoms that I couldn’t kick with my inhalers & regular medications. My shortness of breath got worse and I was wheezing constantly. I thought my asthma was just acting up and it could be allergies. My mom suggested that I get a chest X-ray, so I made an appointment during my lunch hour at work. Not expecting the appointment to take so long.
The X-rays found a cancerous growth in my bronchial passage and left lung. The doctors immediately sent me to get a series of bronchoscopes and biopsies throughout NYC. Jonathan and I were in the doctor’s office when they told us the news that I would need a lung removed to live. I didn’t believe you could live with one lung. Jonathan and I were holding hands and I remember feeling a sense of complete shock and numbness. I became terrified. Jonathan was an incredible support system for me and was so brave. He took complete control over the entire situation.
We chose Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to perform the surgery which included the removal of one lung and spent the next year in post-op treatment and recovery.
How did having cancer change your life?
Having cancer and surviving it at such a young age was the best thing that ever happened to me. I was the typical NYC girl, a “workaholic”, and one who was always competing to move up in the workplace and never made time for family and friends.
Cancer changed my attitude and has shown me how important it is to focus on your family and life. It gave me a second chance to live and appreciate everything around me.
I felt fearless with nothing to lose. I have learned to love and value more. Always put family first and spend time with your loved ones. Having my kids was a true blessing. The worst thing that ever happened to me became the best thing that happened to me in my life.
How has motherhood impacted your journey?
I started this battle wanting to be a mother and many doctors along the way told me that I could “maybe” have a baby one day after cancer. My sister agreed to be a surrogate, but one year after having cancer I got pregnant with Ella. I carried Ella full term and was a high-risk pregnancy. Our second baby Jasper was born four years later. They were both healthy miracle babies and I had carried them with just one lung.
I live my life being a good example for my kids. I try very hard to be a role model for my daughter Ella with everything I do in life. I show her how a female should live her life and wear many hats. I always share important life lessons with Ella. I want her to learn to be a better person for her sake. My son Jasper keeps me real and makes me laugh. He always demonstrates a lot of passion and is the fiery one. Jasper helps me make sure I don’t take things in life too seriously. He would like to wear t-shirt that says “my mom’s a DJ” and he hopes to follow in my footsteps and become a DJ one day.
During your journey and treatment where did you turn for support?
My husband became my biggest support system. He lived at the hospital with me and became my heart and soul. Looking back, he had so much strength and pulled so much weight ,especially only being married to me for six months after I was diagnosed. Jonathan was the pillar of strength. He became my caregiver, secretary, accountant and my emotional backbone. He was terrified but so strong.
The caregiver is the true hero and the patient becomes a “piece of meat” on the hospital table injected with medicine and dye, given test after test, biopsies, and CAT scans.
The loved one is the one in pain waiting outside the hospital room and literally does everything. I didn’t even realize what was happening half the time and Jonathan was terrified and helpless.
Several of my closest friends who have survived breast cancer have also become my support system. We meet every couple of months to chat about our survival stories and life after cancer.
Why did you decide to become a DJ in your 40s and not continue in the fashion industry?
Becoming a DJ was something I always dreamt of doing since I was a teenager. I always had a passion for music and wanted to pursue that passion one day. When I turned 40, I started to realize that life is too short to not follow your dreams. My kids were in school full time and I started feeling misplaced as a stay at home mom. I realized I wanted to go back to work. I wanted to do more with my life! I decided to enroll in the Scratch Academy in NYC to learn how to become a DJ. The Scratch Academy is a well-known DJ school started by Run DMC’s Jam Master Jay. Some of the best DJ’s were trained at this school. I wanted to be the best DJ and wasn’t scared of failing.
I learned that working hard equaled success and my lifetime music obsession helped even more.
It was who I was meant to be.
Do you host DJ events that give back to the community and charitable organizations?
I love giving back to my community! The Greenwich community has been so great and helped me start my career over three years ago. They believed in me and helped me pursue my dream without even hearing me DJ. My friend worked at the Greenwich Hospital Foundation and helped me get my first DJ gig. I was almost finished with DJ school and needed help boosting my confidence to become a DJ. A good friend asked me to open for Flo Rida at the Greenwich International Film Festival in 2017. The first year I lived in Greenwich I joined the “Under the Stars” committee at Greenwich Hospital. My mom delivered babies for over 30 years and I felt a personal connection with this cause. I co-chaired the event in 2015 and DJ’d it for the past three years. I will always support women and children’s health charities for Greenwich Hospital.
What charities are you most passionate about and why?
I am most passionate about Memorial Sloane Kettering and will do anything to help that hospital. I wouldn’t be here today if not for their doctors. I spoke at the Lungevity Gala in NYC and shared my story and battle with lung cancer. I will also be DJing the Gala’s After Party again this year in November. I am also extremely passionate about Breast Cancer Alliance in Greenwich because too many close friends have battled this horrible disease with their families by their sides. I help DJ their fashion show and luncheon each year in Greenwich. I enjoy mixing my two careers together.
To learn more about DJ April Larken:
Follow her on Instagram - @aprillarken
Check out her website - DJ April Larken