If you doubt music's power to console, the case of Cara Joy Clausen may persuade you otherwise. Stricken with stage IV ocular melanoma that's spread to her liver and lungs, the 38-year-old Seattle music lover became the subject of a benefit show for which she was asked to name her dream bill. She listed long-dormant post-punk legends A Frames (Seattle's greatest rock group of the '00s), rowdy garage-punks the Spits, and pop-punk spark plugs Scared of Chaka.

When the latter band's drummer broke his foot about two weeks before the July 15 show, organizers needed to find a replacement act ASAP. Clausen received the news while undergoing her weekly experimental cancer treatment in Philadelphia. Scheming big, Clausen thought of ex–Modern Lovers frontman Jonathan Richman to replace them.

She e-mailed his management and explained how she'd been listening to Richman since her early 20s, and his music had comforted her through relationship vicissitudes, cross-country trips, and "bad haircut decisions." Clausen attached a photo of Richman and her at last year's Burger Boogaloo festival in Oakland and added a poignant closing statement, "Because life is short and I wouldn't mind another chance to dance and sing your songs."

Soon after, Richman's assistant responded that he would mail Clausen's request to him (Richman doesn't use computers), but the message carried a pessimistic undertone. However, Clausen arose from a nap to see a voice mail from an unlisted caller.

"Cara Joy," the message began, "it's Jonathan Richman... Count me in. I'll be there. Call me."

Cue a flurry of "Ohmygods" from Clausen. She called him back, and they had "an amazing conversation about miracles and life."

Clausen calls Richman's music itself miraculous. "He brings a warmth and earnestness to his songs and his performances," she says. "The simplicity of his style, his straightforward words, and his catchy hooks are right up my alley."

Currently, Clausen is "on a clinical trial that they're still trying to determine if it is working. I try to live each day purposefully and gratefully."