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LGBTQ ally Amy Armstrong talks cancer, giving back, 'Amy and Freddy'
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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When LGBTQ ally Amy Armstrong was growing up in Detroit and later Camden, Michigan she dreamed of becoming a performer. Since graduating from Henry Ford Community College and Wayne State University, she has parlayed that into a thriving career as a solo artist and duo with Freddy Allen—aka "Amy and Freddy."

"I was around a lot of gay guys in college due to my major, and I loved them all," said Armstrong. "My best friend, Kevin Walsh, said we should leave Detroit so we can pursue our careers and the closest place we could afford is Chicago so we moved to Boystown."

Armstrong found her first job and shortly after went to her first gay bar, Charlie's, where she met drag queen Fifi Depraved.

"I told Fifi I wanted to perform but I did not have any music," said Armstrong. "Fifi said sing in my ear and if you are good I will let you go up there. I sang a Patsy Cline song and he thought it was good so I got to perform."

The cabaret bar Gentry was another place where Armstrong showed her talents during an open mic night; that led to the owner Dave Edwards giving her a show. Shortly after that, Armstrong met Allen at an open mic night at Gentry.

They have been performing together for 25 years.

"We hit it off right away," said Armstrong. "It was so natural and wonderful to work with him. "Within the first year we were traveling together to perform with the Denmark Symphony and [we've been] on cruise ships since 1998. We traveled to about 35 countries. Any time there was a Pride event or gay bar or LGBT-focused cruise that needed entertainment I am there. I have done thousands of shows over the years."

Armstrong has done benefit performances for many LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS organizations over the years, from Equity Fights AIDS to any HIV prevention group to the marriage equality fight.

"I am very grateful toward the LGBTQ community because it was where I grew up as an adult and found my voice and career," said Armstrong.

Of the many people Armstrong has worked with, she said her favorites have been Leslie Jordan ( who helped her get an agent ), Ty Herndon, Anne Hampton Calloway and Michael Feinstein. Growing up, Armstrong said George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Bette Midler, Liza Minnelli, Moms Mabley, Mae West and other outspoken women inspired her.

For the past 17 years, Armstrong has made Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, her home for half of the year while the rest of the year she travels and stays in Chicago for extended periods. Her goal is to move to Palm Springs, California, so she can audition in Los Angeles.

While in Puerto Vallarta, Armstrong works with the four piece band Piel Canela at the Nacho Daddy live music venue. She also volunteers at a local orphanage and pet sanctuary.

However, her life has taken quite a turn. During gallbladder surgery on June 13 in Puerto Vallarta, doctors found that she had ovarian cancer, of which her mother died from at 50.

"It is kind of wild that we both got the same cancer," said Armstrong. "I have an opportunity to fight this while she did not. Throughout this whole process, people have sent me texts saying they love and support me and are praying for me. These messages have lifted me up."

For Armstrong, it was better for her that she was in Mexico. She said she did not have the insurance to cover the treatments in the United States, adding that unlike in the United States, medical professionals in Mexico seem to have a better bedside manner—which makes a big difference regarding recovery. Armstrong said the process is a lot faster and easier to navigate in Mexico; within a week of being diagnosed, she had her first chemo treatment. Her CA125, which is a person's cancer count, went from 13,100 to 285.

"One Sunday, I was concerned about the pain I was feeling so I called my doctor," said Armstrong. "I thought I would not hear back from her until Monday but she called five minutes later. Tthis would never happen in the United States."

The cancer diagnosis has hastened her performing career with Allen.

"We were booked for shows but I had to back out so he has been performing with other artists," said Armstrong. "He has said it is not the same without me."

"I consider Amy my sister," said Allen. "We have been best friends and musical partners for 25 years. As I watch her fight cancer, I am so inspired by her strength and spirit. She is seriously kicking cancer's ass."

Of all the Amy and Freddy albums that have been released, Armstrong said Naturally Flawless stands out, adding that when she recovers they will be doing a "best of" album.

Recently, Chicago's Hydrate Nightclub held a fundraiser to help pay for Armstrong's treatments. The night featured performances by Allen, Honey West, Denise Tomasello, Russ Goeltenbodt, Daryl Nitz, Feathered Beaus, Russ Rainear, Dixie Lynn Cartwright, Richard Streetman and Alexis Bevels, with Armstrong appearing via video to thank everyone. Armstrong also sang "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" at the event, which raised $5,000.

Armstrong is still in need of funds for treatments that include more surgery and chemo sessions.

"Any money left over will go toward helping women here in Mexico because a lot of them are not getting tested for any diseases," said Armstrong. "Doctors should have to ask if a patient wants a CA125 during regular check-ups to see if there is anything wrong in their bodies."

When asked what message she wanted to send, Armstrong said, "If your body is feeling weird, go to the doctor for a full check-up because it is important to know your health status, especially as you age. Specifically, I want the lesbian and transgender male community to know they still have to get checked by an OB/GYN. It is much better to find out because if you wait too long it will be harder to defeat the disease."

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