Music Therapy Helps Relieve Anxiety, Emotions of Cancer Diagnosis

December 15, 2008

ANN ARBOR, Mich., Dec. 15 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — One day Gisele Bigras was a college student finishing up another year of school. The next day, she
was a cancer patient faced with having one of her fingers removed.

The diagnosis: epithelioid sarcoma in her middle finger. Bigras, 19, was
in a state of shock and panic. But music brought her back.

“Music has always played a huge part in my life. Music therapy helped me
focus on something else other than the traumatic events of the cancer
diagnosis, and just forget for an hour or so, to just go into a different
world for a little bit,” Bigras says.

Bigras is one of many patients at the University of Michigan Comprehensive
Cancer Center who participates in music therapy. The idea is to use music to
help patients cope with physical symptoms, such as pain, reduce their anxiety
and find an outlet for their emotions.

“We find that patients are trying to cope with many things. They’re trying
to keep it all together, and sometimes if you give them a safe environment and
permission to let go, a lot can come out through that,” says Megan Gunnell, a
music therapist at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Music therapy can be as straightforward as listening to recorded or live
music. It could mean playing a guitar, piano or even just shaking a
tambourine. It could mean writing songs or discussing the meaning behind

For Gisele Bigras, music therapy turned into an opportunity to write and
record her own song. The song, “Back on the Ground,” covers three stages: the
happiness before cancer, the chaos of diagnosis and the realization afterward
that she could move on.

“Listening to it helps me realize I’m coming out of this. Everything’s
fine and I can move on from here,” Bigras says.

Research in music therapy shows that in addition to helping with emotional
expression, music helps reduce anxiety and perceptions of pain. Controlled
studies also show that patients having music therapy show improved immune
system functioning.

Gunnell points out that music goes back to the womb, where babies hear a
mother’s voice vibrating, her heart beating and the natural pulse of life.

“You don’t have to have any musical background to experience music
therapy,” Gunnell says. “You’re able to participate because you are naturally
rhythmical. You have a lot of rhythms and melody already going on in your own

    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.


    Music therapy at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center

    Podcast: Music therapy session, with Megan Gunnell

    Article: Finding comfort in music therapy

    Complementary therapies at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center

    Article: Complementary, integrative medicine offers healing

    American Cancer Society: Music therapy

    American Music Therapy Association

    U-M Cancer AnswerLine, 800-865-1125

SOURCE University of Michigan Health System

Source: newswire

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