Melodic Magic: Can Music Help Patients Heal?

My original chosen career was music — a classical pianist to be exact. But life challenges and changes diverted me from that path and led to a career as a writer. Nonetheless, music has always been and to this day remains a constant in my life. It can evoke memories of times past. It can soothe away stress or can take me to someplace new and exciting. I don’t think I’m unique. To say music is transformational might be an overstatement. Or is it?

Research suggests that music simulates both physiological and emotional changes in the brain and can, in a word, be transformative. For people who are hospitalized, it can also help patients find comfort and respite from their medical journeys through the course of their disease. While this all appears to make sense can music weave a healing cloak for patients battling a serious disease or does it simply take one’s mind off it for awhile?

Well take the case for Angela Fahey, a teenage oncology patient at Banner Children’s at Cardon Children’s Medical Center. In 2012, Fahey, an 18-year-old college freshman, was given a diagnosis that shook her world — osteosarcoma, a rare and aggressive form of bone cancer. While music had always been an integral part of her life — she sang, played guitar and like most teens, listened to music almost constantly, but her world went silent when she got her diagnosis. She turned her back on her art and took a year off from school to concentrate on her disease. “During that time, I stopped doing anything that reminded me of a normal life … including everything related to music.”

But the music therapists at Cardon Children’s knew that getting Fahey back in touch with music could be extremely helpful with her healing process and after a few months, they were finally able to encourage her to get out of bed and pick up an instrument. Fahey mentioned she’d always wanted to learn to play the piano and Angela Wibben, one of the music therapists at the hospital, started to give her lessons over the course of Fahey’s 21 rounds of chemotherapy and 80 blood platelet transfusions.

During the course of her treatments, Fahey met another osteosarcoma patient, Zach Sobiech. Sobiech found refuge from his disease through song writing. While he lost his battle with cancer, his legacy lives on in his performance of “Clouds,” which became a worldwide YouTube sensation.  Fahey went on to record a cover of this song and also put it on the Internet. While nervous about doing so, she quipped, “Besides, I was bald, it’s not like people were going to say anything bad about my singing. I put it out there and I actually got a lot of really good responses.”

I’d love for you to virtually meet this incredible young woman and the team at Cardon Children’s Medical Center.

Every day, music is helping people cope with their illness in many of our Banner Health hospitals and as you can see, it is magical.

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