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Highlights of the Music Heals Event

Highlights of the Music Heals Event

On February 1, we celebrated the power of music to lift our spirits in the face of cancer. Thank you to KEXP for their collaboration and devoting their airwaves to music suggestions from the community as well as featuring on-air patient stories. We’d like to share some highlights from the day and say a big thank you to EVERYONE that participated.

Highlights from the KEXP interview with Dr. Rengan

John Richards: We’re talking about our Music Heals Day and as part of that we’re working SCCA, and we have our friend Dr. Rengan here, who is Chief Medical Officer at SCCA Proton Therapy Center.

Dr. Rengan, thank you for being here this morning. We met you last year at SCCA. Amy and I took a tour and were pretty moved by what we saw and the inspiration that you guys provide so many people. I’m going to start it off by asking you to talk about the analogy of a bell jar which I found very helpful and have used dealing with talking to people with cancer.

Dr. Rengan: The analogy of the bell jar is that sometimes in our effort to be caring and kind to loved ones who may be ill, particularly those afflicted with cancer, the cancer patient feels they are trapped in a bell jar and they’re being examined from all sides by family members. When a cancer patient has a cough, it’s no longer just a couch. Your sister says, “Oh my God, did you just cough? Why’d you just cough? Is that a normal cough or an abnormal cough?” It can make the patient feel kind of trapped. You feel like every move you make is being examined from all sides and as much as it’s really out of love and caring, sometimes for the patients themselves, believe it or not, it can be somewhat suffocating. As physicians, we help empower the patient to try and redirect their family members’ caring in a way that’s a little bit more constructive. Which could be something like, “Listen. I promise you, I’ll tell you if something is out of the ordinary. It’s alright for me to just have a cough, it’s alright for me to have a headache, it’s alright for me to sneeze. But I promise you, I’ll tell you, I know my body, I’ve lived in my body my whole life, I’ll tell you.” And it kind of liberates everybody so they can really focus their energies on wellness as opposed to the illness that is cancer.

John: I think that’s good advice for people, you don’t necessarily get a pamphlet on how best to help.  I’d like to talk about the caregivers - and there’s so many in this city.  I wanted to ask you about the issue of employee morale. In a cancer treatment center, there’s a lot going on, it’s a different aspect. They’re dealing with serious issues and people’s lives every day. For you, what do you do to stay above water and help your employees stay above it all?

Dr. R: Just like with any obstacle in life, I think the prism through which you view it has a huge impact on how you process that event. If you process cancer through focusing on the illness as opposed to the wellness of the patient, it is incredibly sobering and it can be very hard to make it through. People who are focused on the disease oftentimes burn out because it’s a very difficult… it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I think we can all acknowledge that there’s never going to be a magic pill that you take and boom, cancer is gone. It’s a disease that evolves and it’s something that we’re going to have a long continuous battle against. The point is, if you focus on the positives and on the wellness of the patients, if you focus on that, then there are victories every day, and every hour. Conveying that notion to the staff and trying to remind myself of that day in and day out, when we have to have difficult conversations with patients and family members, that’s the way to kind of get through it. Because in that moment when you’re having a conversation with a patient, you’re entering into a very intimate place and it’s a sacred trust that they’re putting in you and there’s something profoundly and deeply humbling about that. You can view that positively if you think about it in the right way, and it’s sometimes hard to do, but if we remind ourselves, and use tools such as music to help, then we can focus on the wellness as opposed to the illness.

John: We’ll talk about the patient experience, too. They make their first appointment, their first visit, they follow up for treatments. When we toured the center, we were very much aware of how the patient experiences the waiting area, the treatment area, the song selection, the protocol, the rooms themselves, and I think that ties into what we’re doing here with the experience of music and its abilities to distract you in some ways, to make you feel just a little more human, a little more connected.

Dr. R: Yes. Here’s one thing that no cancer patient ever said, “I need more help focusing on my disease.” Nobody ever says that, nobody ever needs a reminder of the illness. What we focus on and I think one of the real positive attributes of the center is trying to really take everyone who enters that building, their mind away from the disease state. Our waiting room is like a lobby for a hotel as opposed to a sterile hospital room. We try to do little things, patients don’t wear standard gowns, they wear a robe. Yes, you are there to deal with the task of battling a disease, but you don’t need to be reminded of it every millimeter and every second of your day because that’s on your mind anyways. That spirit comes through and we’re fortunate to have an outstanding staff and phenomenal people working at the center who are into that.

John: Yes and when you’re diagnosed with cancer, you’re coming to this life and death situation, you’re suddenly introduced to new people and they’re going to be with you through the biggest fight of your life. Caregivers, my mom’s included, are in the patient’s and their families’ lives forever, and that’s a big responsibility.

Dr. R: Yes, you never know where that life preserver is going to come from. It could come from a small conversation you’re having over coffee or sitting next to a fireplace in the waiting area. It can come from a perfect stranger. You never know because, you’ll have these moments where you’re going to be vulnerable and the setting you’re in and the place that you’re in can lend itself to turning that into a positive moment versus having it be a profoundly sad moment. I think that our waiting area and the lobby we have, lends to patients and their family members helping one another out. There’s a sense of community there and that’s probably one of the strongest assets that we have.

James Kim

We had the privilege of caring for brain cancer patient James Kim, a 20-year-old student at the University of Washington who used the power of music to help him throughout his treatment process. James shared his experience with us at “Music Heals,” a collaboration with KEXP dedicated to the power of music to lift our spirts and heal our souls in the face of cancer.

Survivor James speaks at the 2nd annual Music Heals event.