DERBY, NY - Head to any watering hole in the south towns and you've probably heard the Uncle Fester Band. While the group may seem like every other band, when you get to know the people behind the instruments, you'll see why they have a whole new appreciation for their music.
The Uncle Fester Band is together again after two of its core members didn't know if they'd ever be able to perform again.
Music was a common bond for Joe and Colleen Sliz of Derby who met almost 30 years ago and have been married for more than 15.
"All throughout our lives both of us have been involved in music. My parents, my mom always had the radio on. His mom always had the radio on at home," Colleen said.
Colleen is a singer and Joe is a drummer. They played in various separate groups throughout their relationship, but the music stopped in 2005 when Joe had a nagging back pain that just wouldn't go away. After months of testing, one doctor came back with a grim diagnosis- Burkett's-like Diffused Large B-cell non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. It had already spread throughout his entire body.
Joe said the doctor told him, "If you don't get treatment you'll be dead in 6 months. If you get treatment that I'm going to prescribe for you and it doesn't work, you'll be dead in 6 months. If I were you I'd go home and make out a will if you don't already have one and get everything in order because you'll probably be dead in 6 months."
At the age of 40, Joe faced the fight of his life....a fight FOR his life. He struggled through months of chemotherapy and went into remission, but six months later the cancer came back again. Throughout it all, Colleen was his rock.
Finally Joe went into his second remission and the lymphoma stayed away. To celebrate his new lease on life, the couple started playing music together and in 2008 the Uncle Fester Band was formed.
"When you're up there and you're playing, and the lights are on and everything's going well and everything's clicking and people are enjoying themselves, there's just not a better feeling," said Joe.
But sadly that feeling didn't last forever. In 2011, it was Colleen who started to feel strange.
"I thought I got bit by something because I had this mark on my neck," she said.
Tests showed it was Hodgkins Lymphoma. She immediately started courses of chemo and radiation. Losing her hair wasn't Colleen's concern. It was losing something much more valuable to the songstress.
"The radiation people had said too that your voice may change," she said.
They made the tough decision to put the band on hiatus so Colleen could focus on her health. And now it was Joe's turn to support Colleen, just as she had for him.
"People were telling me I cannot believe how much of a positive attitude you have. Everyone was telling me that," said Colleen.
But no matter how positive she was, both Colleen and Joe knew deep down the music was missing.
"When it's not there and it's not your fault and you have no control over it you kind of feel like it's been taken from you," said Joe.
And that's why the first thing they did when Colleen felt strong enough, was bring the Uncle Fester Band back. The music, after all, made them feel alive.
"I thought we had returned to a sense of normalcy because your life gets so turned upside down," said Joe.
Rather than scheduling doctor's appointments, Joe and Colleen Sliz are scheduling gigs again. And each show, surrounded by friends and fans, is a celebration of life.