The power of music during cancer treatment

Three year old Charlie had regular music therapy sessions with Alison during his sixth month stay on a paediatric oncology ward, where he was undergoing intensive treatment for Leukaemia.

Charlie’s parents were concerned that he was missing out on the social interaction he would have received outside of hospital, as well as worrying about the development of his communicative needs, particularly as a young child with Down’s Syndrome. In sessions, Alison was able to use Charlie’s natural responses to music to build interactions with him, as well as introducing activities and songs that supported his verbal development, listening skills and response skills.

Additionally, music therapy gave Charlie a space to simply enjoy himself and have fun! Music Therapist Alison said:

“From the very first session I was struck by Charlie’s appetite for making music. I wheeled the instrument trolley into Charlie’s hospital bay and his eyes lit up as he pointed at the drums with enthusiasm! I placed the bongos in front of him and took a guitar for myself. He immediately began to play with great excitement and I matched his speed and energy to make him feel in control – something that is often stripped away from individuals during cancer treatment. Charlie’s desire and need to be playful was clearly evident throughout his music therapy sessions, and it was my role to support and encourage this essential activity for any child. In music Charlie could experience himself as a child who is well, not as an individual being “treated”, but as a child who is able to be spontaneous and able to just play.”

The music therapy sessions also provided Charlie’s mum with time to play with her son. She said of the experience:

“Charlie spent almost 6 months on the oncology ward and had to endure some extremely traumatic, painful and distressing times as part of his treatment for Leukaemia and the music therapy sessions were literally the highlight of our week. Charlie spent much of his time in isolation due to various infections and so rarely made it to the group sessions. Instead Alison came to his room and delivered a personal session for Charlie. Sometimes he had a lot of pent up frustration that he needed to release on the drums, tambourine and bells whilst bouncing up and down on his bed with delight. On other occasions Charlie would make special requests for Alison to play his favourite Mary Poppins tunes. One occasion that really comes to mind is when Charlie needed sedation for a procedure but due to the various drugs that he was already on, his body was fighting sleep. Alison turned up with her collection of musical instruments and soothed Charlie to sleep with Golden Slumbers and other lullabies. It was simply magical seeing how Charlie responded by drifting off into a peaceful sleep. Other times Charlie was simply very frail and just seeing Alison turn up on the ward brought a huge smile to his face and made his day so much better. The music therapy sessions were an absolutely invaluable part of Charlie’s treatment; soothing and bringing happiness to a very poorly child fighting cancer. Seeing Charlie happy made everyone in the room happy – the music would literally transform our day.”

Read more about how music therapy can be beneficial for people living with cancer.