Grammy-winning slack-key guitar master Dennis Kamakahi is looking forward to going home after checking into the Queen’s Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with lung cancer.
Kamakahi, 60, said he had no idea he had cancer when he went to the hospital with pneumonia last week. The “stage four” cancer — meaning it had spread to both lungs or other parts of his body — was discovered during diagnostic tests. At that point, pneumonia became a secondary issue, said Kamakahi, who underwent his first chemotherapy session over the weekend.
“We had to treat the more important (problem) first,” he said via telephone Monday, March 17, sounding healthy and relaxed. “I came through the chemo pretty well, it’s just that in about 10 days my immune system will start to fall and I won’t be able to have any visitors. Right now I still have my appetite. They’re taking care of the pneumonia now and then I can go home.”
Kamakahi, a Christian minister, contributed to slack-key compilation albums that won Grammys in 2007 and 2008 for best Hawaiian music album. He won Na Hoku Hanohano Awards as a member of Eddie Kamae & the Sons of Hawai’i and for the album “Amy Hanaiali’i and Slack Key Masters of Hawaii.” A prolific songwriter, Kamakahi has composed more than 500 songs in the Hawaiian language.
In 2009, the Hawai’i Academy of Recording Arts honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award as a member of the Sons of Hawai’i. That same year, he was inducted into the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame.
Kamakahi announced his illness via Facebook, and his page is filled with prayers and get-well-soon wishes from friends and fans around the world. Several of the musicians performing at Kani Ka Pila Grille’s sold-out 5th Anniversary Lu’au on Saturday acknowledged him with shout-outs during the show and played some of his best-known compositions. Fellow slack-key master and Grammy winner George Kahumoku organized a five-day prayer vigil and fast for Kamakahi on Maui.
Kamakahi philosophically describes what he’s going through as “a great experience.”
“I’ve never seen it from this perspective, and I’ve learned so much in the small period I’ve been here. It’s a long drawn-out battle but the doctors are really good; they tell you want to expect,” he said.
“The main thing with cancer is that you can’t wait. You have to hit it right now. That was my main purpose for documenting what I’m going through. I’m going to keep writing and keep a journal and see how much I improve.”
Kamakahi said he hopes his experience will prompt others to seek regular check-ups and follow the advice of their health-care providers.
“That’s the main thing,” he said, adding that if his cancer had not been discovered by accident he likely would have been dead in two months. “That’s the thing about this disease. You may not feel it, but it’s there.”