ANN ARBOR, Mich., Dec. 15 One day Gisele Bigraswas a college student finishing up another year of school. The next day, shewas a cancer patient faced with having one of her fingers removed.
The diagnosis: epithelioid sarcoma in her middle finger. Bigras, 19, wasin a state of shock and panic. But music brought her back.
"Music has always played a huge part in my life. Music therapy helped mefocus on something else other than the traumatic events of the cancerdiagnosis, and just forget for an hour or so, to just go into a differentworld for a little bit," Bigras says.
Bigras is one of many patients at the University of Michigan ComprehensiveCancer Center who participates in music therapy. The idea is to use music tohelp patients cope with physical symptoms, such as pain, reduce their anxietyand find an outlet for their emotions.
"We find that patients are trying to cope with many things. They're tryingto keep it all together, and sometimes if you give them a safe environment andpermission to let go, a lot can come out through that," says Megan Gunnell, amusic therapist at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Music therapy can be as straightforward as listening to recorded or livemusic. It could mean playing a guitar, piano or even just shaking atambourine. It could mean writing songs or discussing the meaning behindlyrics.
For Gisele Bigras, music therapy turned into an opportunity to write andrecord her own song. The song, "Back on the Ground," covers three stages: thehappiness before cancer, the chaos of diagnosis and the realization afterwardthat she could move on.
"Listening to it helps me realize I'm coming out of this. Everything'sfine and I can move on from here," Bigras says.
Research in music therapy shows that in addition to helping with emotionalexpression, music helps reduce anxiety and perceptions of pain. Controlledstudies also show that patients having music therapy show improved immunesystem functioning.
Gunnell points out that music goes back to the womb, where babies hear amother's voice vibrating, her heart beating and the natural pulse of life.
"You don't have to have any musical background to experience musictherapy," Gunnell says. "You're able to participate because you are naturallyrhythmical. You have a lot of rhythms and melody already going on in your ownsystem."Getting started: -- There are simple ways to enjoy the calming benefits of music. Start with these suggestions: -- Listen to soothing music. Your heart rate can change based on the tempo of what you're listening to. -- Bring an iPod or mp3 player to doctors' appointments to help pass the wait time and reduce anxiety. -- Listen to live music. Seek out local performances. -- Analyze the lyrics to a favorite song and consider what is meaningful to you at this time in your life. -- Find music that matches your mood. Music can support you through a multitude of emotions. Resources: Music therapy at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center www.cancer.med.umich.edu/support/music_therapy.shtml Podcast: Music therapy session, with Megan Gunnell www.cancer.med.umich.edu/musictherapy.mp3 Article: Finding comfort in music therapy www.cancer.med.umich.edu/living/easy_listening.shtml Complementary therapies at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center www.cancer.med.umich.edu/support/complementary_therapies_intro.shtml Article: Complementary, integrative medicine offers healing www.cancer.med.umich.edu/living/mind-body-connection.shtml American Cancer Society: Music therapy www.cancer.org/docroot/ETO/content/ETO_5_3X_Music_Therapy.asp?sitearea=ETO American Music Therapy Association www.musictherapy.org U-M Cancer AnswerLine, 800-865-1125
SOURCE University of Michigan Health System