Hearing the words “you’ve got cancer” – how music therapy is helping people like Cheryl*
It’s a sad fact that today in Queensland, up to 70 people and their families will be completely blindsided by a cancer diagnosis.
Following a cancer diagnosis, patients will normally undergo a series of medical treatments. They will attend multiple doctors’ appointments and undergo regular scans, blood tests and other examinations. Inevitably, these people will also experience the darker side of cancer—a great deal of fear, uncertainty and emotional distress.
But not all cancer treatments need to be difficult or frightening all the time.
Mater’s music therapy program relies on funding from supporters like Dry July, and provides patients with a chance to address the psychological, emotional, social, physical and physiological impact of their illness while they work through the significant life change they are experiencing. This research-based program is just one part of Mater’s programs that offers an integrated approach to cancer care for any patient.
Cheryl is just one of the many patients who have benefited from music therapy at Mater Cancer Care Centre. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003, Cheryl was first in remission following her treatment, but sadly her cancer returned in 2014. Cheryl is now battling metastatic breast cancer.
“I know I can’t get through my cancer without music therapy. It’s as simple as that. It’s a huge thing that’s happening to you when you have cancer. You have to make a ‘new’ way of life around you, and music therapy is a part of my new life,” Cheryl explains.
“When I tell people ‘sorry I can’t see you today because I’m going to music therapy,’ they ask what it’s all about—I tell them that it’s laughter, it’s humour, music therapy is great, it helps me to relax. Nobody is judging me, I can choose to sing or not, it doesn’t matter. The therapy is very flexible,” Cheryl explains.
Cheryl and her daughter have been attending a series of weekly one-to-one music therapy sessions with Mater Music Therapist, Jeanette. A university-trained therapist with a recently completed PhD and registered with the Australian Music Therapy Association, Jeanette has been practicing music therapy for over twenty years.
“Music therapy empowers patients; they often talk about their feelings in a different way at the end of their session. You can see the change in their facial expressions and the change in their mood, both during and after the session,” Jeanette explains.
“Music therapy provides a safe space for patients to talk about other things going on in their lives. But patients don’t always have to discuss what they’re going through; sometimes we’ll just sing a song or we’ll start playing some music, or we’ll talk about music—we don’t necessarily begin each session by talking about how a patient is feeling, or whether they are anxious or low. It’s the music that provides the access point to talking about their cancer journey”.
“Sometimes there’s laughter and sometimes there are tears, but the therapeutic space created between the patient, the therapist and the music all work together to meet the patient’s needs”.
Cheryl says she has recommended the music therapy program at Mater to a number of other cancer patients she knows.
“The other day I was singing in the lift at Mater Cancer Care Centre and one of the patients there asked me why I looked so happy. I told her ‘it’s quite simple, I go to music therapy’. She’s now looking into music therapy for herself.”
Cheryl credits music therapy for helping her being able to work through her cancer diagnosis and ongoing treatment.
“Music therapy is like a breath of fresh air, because I don’t have to think about my cancer. It gives me an outlet and it’s a joy,” she explains.
“I want to extend my sincerest thanks to the supporters of Dry July for helping fund this very important program at Mater. If I hadn’t had all of these different supports and this way of dealing with my cancer, I really don’t think I would be able to get through.”
*Names have been changes for anonymity.