Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Cancer And Music

Music has always been a part of my life, forever.  I am a third generation vocalist, though admittedly, at this point in my life, it is purely for enjoyment and relaxation.  I look for any opportunity to simply hang out and listen to local bands jam, karaoke, or even just tune in with my Ipod.  But for a time in my life, it was probably one of the most important coping mechanisms to deal with my battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and well into my survivorship.

Often times, we associate a particular song with an event, place, or person in our lives.  For instance, whenever I hear Chicago “Wishing You Were Here”, I recall hearing the song for the first time back in the early 1970’s blaring from the speakers outside of the entrance to the Thunderhawk rollercoaster at Dorney Park in Allentown, PA.  Every time.

But in 1989, as I was heading to St. Luke’s Hospital to begin my radiation therapy treatments, a song came on the radio which served as a stark reminder, that I was going to need great tunes to help me deal with the journey that was ahead of me.  As controversial as the song was, Madonna’s “Like A Prayer”, it reminded me that I needed more than just the doctors, nurses, and treatments.  I had strong faith back then, and just hearing the word “prayer” sparked that reminder.  But then I started to piece together a playlist of songs, that I would record onto “cassette tape” (for those of you that are reading this and are too young, the cassette tape is a small plastic case with a recordable tape inside, that we constantly had to use a pencil to re-spool the tape when the mechanism failed and just continued to feed the tape anyway), and then place the tape into my “Walkman” (yes, the predecessor to the MP3 player, the predecessor to the Ipod, which is now the process of whatever device is currently being used).  But every radiation treatment, and every chemotherapy treatment, I listened to my Walkman.  By doing this every day, I remembered that I listened to it the day before, which reminded me that I got through the day before, and I would be able to get through today as well.  Music took me away from the chair I sat in at the chemotherapy suite and allowed me to be distracted by other things.  And since the 1980’s brought on music videos, positive imaging, which I learned from Norman Vincent Peale was made even easier (and yes, “Positive Imaging” was the name of his book).

Now, as I continue my follow up visits, which require a lot of travel, I do use my Ipod, packed with music, and meditate while I ride the trains and subways to get to Manhattan.  This helps me to maintain calmness.  In spite of being in remission all of these years, I still face other health issues.  And I would rather be calm heading into my appointments, than already be torqued up, if given news other than I was expecting.

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2 thoughts on “Cancer And Music

  1. For me, it was the final chorale of J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.

    I was in hospital with a disease my doctor said would kill me within two years, it was just after Christmas,which I traditionally celebrated with at least one listen to this favorite Bach oratorio, but missed that year because I was out of it in hospital.

    My roomI was in a hospital four hours’ drive from family and friends, I was just beginning the medical procedures necessary to save my life, and I had lots of time by myself in my hospital bed (unable to sleep because of high doses of Prednisone).

    I could have gone crazy, but I focused instead on trying to remember the horn line in that beautiful movement from the Christmas Oratorio. I whistled it in the dark till I thought I had it right, and I felt the power of his music to heal – my mind, if not my body.

    When the doctors came in the next day, I whistled it for them. One, an Irish doctor, and Oxford Fellow, dropped her serious look. “When I was at university, some of my girl friends and I used to listen to concerts on the grass during lunch, and they frequently featured Bach!”

    She smiled.

    For a moment, she wasn’t a doctor, by a girl transported back to a happier, less responsible time when she had time to listen to music.

    “Thank you,” she said, then we got back to the business of saving me.

    Though it was Baroque music that triggered a happier time and season, like for you, just about any music has the same power to help one get through the tough spells.

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