Sound health: Tapping music’s power for cancer care

Dave Shattuck and Roger Slusher met during chemotherapy at Norton Cancer Institute and before long the Infusion String Band” was born.

Dave Shattuck and Roger Slusher have a lot in common. Both are talented musicians. Both play the guitar. Both love music, especially Bluegrass and country. And both have cancer — Dave has lung cancer; Roger has prostate cancer.

When the two met during chemotherapy at Norton Cancer Institute, the talk soon turned to music. Shattuck and his beloved partner, Sonya Cotton (who plays bass fiddle), often brought their instruments to pass the time during Shattuck’s treatments. Slusher had been enjoying playing his guitar during “chemo time,” so staff arranged for him and Shattuck to get their treatments at the same time.

To the delight of patients and staff, the impromptu “Infusion String Band” was born. Brian Schreck, board-certified music therapist, sometimes joined the group as well.

Schreck, who is part of Norton Cancer Institute’s care team, makes rounds using a guitar, ukulele or tambourine instead of a thermometer or blood pressure cuff. As patients chat, listen to music or play an instrument (no experience required), Schreck assesses their needs. He then develops individual music therapy plans to support each person’s clinical care.

“Music has incredible power to connect with people,” Schreck said. “Music therapy uses evidence-based approaches to bring together medicine’s compassionate and clinical sides.”

Leading cancer centers tap power of music therapy

Norton Cancer Institute joins many major cancer centers around the nation in using music as a therapeutic tool. Top-ranked cancer centers — such as MD Anderson, Memorial Sloan Kettering and others — use music therapy as a key part of their integrative medicine programs.

“It’s important for people in our community to have access to this type of comprehensive and compassionate cancer care close to home,” Schreck said.

Research shows that when music therapy is used with conventional cancer treatments, it can help improve both emotional and physical well-being.

Music’s gifts

While each of us can experience music in a very personal way, many people find that music therapy can help:

  • Reduce stress and increase feelings of relaxation, calm and pleasure
  • Ease fear and anxiety
  • Minimize discomfort or the perception of pain
  • Lessen feelings of isolation and loneliness
  • Give patients and caregivers a way to share time in a positive, meaningful way

Shattuck and Slusher can vouch for these benefits. They invited other local musicians to join them on Dec. 29, 2017, for a final jam session to mark their last chemo treatments.

As family and friends celebrated the hope of a new year, they enjoyed the precious gift of singing a few old favorite songs. They tapped their toes, clapped their hands, smiled … and even wiped away a tear or two.

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