The Power of Music
I smile as I make my way into the room at the Brooke Army Medical Center Soldier Recovery Unit. Every chair for the music group has a masked-faced military member sitting in it. Some are holding guitars, others ukuleles. This is the first time, thanks to COVID-19, we’ve been able to meet in person in over a year.
I started volunteering for Warrior Cry Music Project as a beginning guitar instructor about six years ago, a couple of years before cancer. The music group attendees are amputees, burn patients, and those affected by cancer. Regardless of what brings them there, I have seen firsthand the healing power of music.
In 2016, I was diagnosed with two cancers. The first, and the most unexpected, was a rare blood cancer called polycythemia vera (PV). I had never even heard of it when my primary doctor referred me to a hematologist because of elevated blood levels.
Two months later, before I dealt with the news of the first cancer, an oncologist diagnosed me with invasive ductal carcinoma, or breast cancer.
This time of uncertainty left me scared, overwhelmed, and depressed. I struggled with this unexpected turn in my life.
Music to the rescue
Music has been a part of my essence for as long as I can remember. I started playing an old Gibson guitar my dad gave me when I was in my teens. Although sporadic, all I needed to do when I was feeling down was pick up the guitar. I immediately felt better. Listening to music also has always had a calming effect on me. I have listened to music in many forms over the years; from record albums to my first-generation iPod to most recently, Spotify.
Music therapy research shows patients with cancer may benefit from musical experiences. Music therapy can assist patients to cope with the negative emotions they face with cancer. In addition, music is a unique form of art that affects people spiritually, emotionally, socially, and physically. Therefore, it can benefit patients in managing all these aspects.
Types of music therapy
There are two categories of music therapy: active and receptive. In the active form, patients are hands-on participants and are encouraged to create or describe their experiences with music. With receptive forms of music therapy, the patient simply listens to either live or recorded music. Both categories have been a part of my rehabilitation and acceptance.1
Music has come to the rescue countless times in my life. No matter what is going, it has been there to pull me through. It has been my solace. When things fall apart, it has been by my side to pick up the pieces.
In order to move forward after both of my diagnoses, it made sense to turn to my old friend, music. I started playing the guitar and singing with vigor. Initially, because of the brain fog from PV and the neuropathy from chemo, it was a challenge. However, bothersome fatigue, pain, and itching dissipate as soon as I pick up the guitar. It’s like I have consumed some magic healing potion.
As we tune up our guitars, it occurs to me there is some irony moving from facilitator to now patient. I’m reaping the benefits of music therapy for myself. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
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