woman receiving a chemo infusion while listening to music

Coping With Music

Last updated: January 2023

Music has always been an integral part of my life. Even as a baby, my parents said I was always dancing and bouncing whenever there was a tune playing. As I got older, music was how I worked through teenage angst, my first crush, my first breakup, celebrations, and deep loss.

No matter the mood or occasion, I've always had a knack for finding songs and melodies that resonated with what I was experiencing. This has held true throughout my entire cancer story as well.

The soundtrack to my (cancer) life

One of the first things I asked my husband to bring to the hospital once I was assigned a room was my big noise-canceling headphones. Between the immense pain, fear, and all the other sights and sounds that fill a busy room, I needed an escape.

To cope with the pain and nausea, I would listen to meditative sounds and do deep breathing. When I was receiving a scary diagnosis or prognosis news, I would turn on angry rock and roll as soon as the staff left. I would often hum ABBA (specifically "Lay All Your Love on Me") when I was getting blood drawn or IV placements. It helped me focus on something other than the multiple sticks and digging for a vein.

I'll always remember the staff blasting Top 40 for me when I was stuck in the MRI machine for 2 hours and the awesome surgeon who played 70s disco when doing my third nephrostomy placement.

Soft music let me block out the beeps and hums of machines so I could sleep. And on long nights when the dark thoughts would creep into my mind, songs of hope would help me dry my tears. Through all my cancer stories, I have a few standout moments and their corresponding songs to share.

Getting out of my head

After my radical cystectomy, I was sent home with a month's worth of Lovenox shots that I needed to give to myself. This was to prevent blood clots post-surgery. Well, if you know me, I hate needles.

The idea of poking myself was a huge mental hurdle to get over. I remember sobbing each time just from the anxiety. Well, I can thank Ms. Taylor Swift for giving me the shove to get over my anxiety and get it done. I remember playing her song, "You Need to Calm Down," each and every time I gave myself a shot.

Three years later, I still laugh anytime it plays.

Songs are a point of reflection now

Before I checked into my second hospital, where I would ultimately receive surgery and my treatment, I got to spend a night at home with my family.

For some wild reason, we decided to watch Mama Mia. The entire week before surgery, I played ABBA songs on repeat, but I specifically remember singing "I Have a Dream" in my head the entire time I was being wheeled back for surgery.

I continued even when a wonderful surgery tech held my hand, and the anesthesiologist knocked me out. It gave me a great amount of comfort and peace. Unfortunately, I can't stand to play that song now. It definitely induces the waterworks.

I made it

My absolute favorite song and moment happened just a few weeks ago. Pan!c at the Disco has a really fun song called "Hey Look Ma I Made It."

I remember listening to this song on my way to almost all of my treatments and scans. I would dream and hope that one day I could shout it out because I had "made it" and beat cancer. Well, my husband and I bought tickets to go see them live in concert. I bought a fancy outfit and looked forward to the day with much anticipation. Why? Because that same morning, I would find out from my oncologist if I had hit the threshold of being cancer free long enough to stop treatment.

Well, I did, and we decided to pause treatment and see if I could stay cancer-free without it. I had the opportunity to sing at the top of my lungs at the concert "Hey Look Ma, I MADE IT!" It was an incredible full-circle moment of being able to realize a hope I had 3 years prior.

It seems my entire life has had a backing track, and music has truly helped me through the highest highs and lowest lows. Do you have any power anthems or special songs from your cancer journey?

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