Songs for the Soul: UMC cancer patients soothed by live music

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The venue is much different and the crowd is a bit tougher to win over, but for local musicians Mike Kobrin and Michael Smith, performing for an audience in the clutches of one of life's most prevalent and crippling diseases could not be more meaningful.

"These people are in more pain than I think I can imagine," Kobrin said. "That's why I use mutes on my horns sometimes to keep the sound down."

Volunteering an hour once a week, the duo slip into University Medical Center in New Orleans and compete with sounds more familiar with a hospital visit. The few dozen in the crowd listen not by choice but because they are going through agonizing treatment and hooked up to a tubes receiving chemotherapy.

"I have a couple of grandparents who have gone through cancer, and luckily, they beat it," Smith said. "This specific illness is very close to me, and this is a thing that I want to do what I can to help out."

"Chemotherapy can last anywhere from a small incision all the way up to seven to eight hours. To make the day go by faster and to break up the monotony is what supportive care is about," Director of UMC Cancer Center David Brandt said.

Over the course of the set, the music contagiously sweeps through the center. Patients tap out the challenges they face and the medical staff rock away life's troubles.

"This is a release," Brandt said. "This is meant for the patient and the staff to really come out and express themselves in ways that is not expressed through the clinical side of it."

"I find it soothing," cancer patient Betty McGill said. "You sit down, and you read something and listen to good music - it's a soothing atmosphere. It's different. It helps."

McGill's treatments last three hours, and the musicians have serenaded her for every treatment she has received.

"That's really interesting for them to come out and do this for us, to volunteer their time. That's a blessing," she said.

Those blessings are not only in the form of music. At the UMC Cancer Center, patients get massages, learn yoga and join support groups. Doctors say those little benefits lead to greater chances of survival.

"We definitely are on a growth trajectory. We do it not just for that purpose. However, we have found that the patients that are better from a supportive care standpoint also do better from a healing perspective," Brandt said.

The perspective gained by performing for this crowd serves as a reminder that the little moments can make a big difference, and patients show it. Some dance before treatments and others dance out of the door immediately after they are finished.

"It's so serious all the time, the illness and everything like that, but to see somebody that is kind of cutting loose and having a good time, it was kind of a living thing to see actually," Smith said.

But the most inspiring sound of all it's not played by the musicians. It is played by the patients. Per tradition, on a patient's last day of treatments, they ring the bell.

"Today is my last treatment hallelujah," McGill said with a smile.

She rang the bell with fury, and even a patient hooked up to a chemotherapy drip danced to its powerful sound. The ring echoed a sense of victory and uplifted those patients still in the process.

Though the center is known for its somber purpose, smiles and laughter reigned supreme.

The closing song celebrated a moment where we all know the melody by heart.

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