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Music Therapy from the Heart

Music therapist Brian Schreck works with patients at the Norton Cancer Center in Louisville and has found a unique way to bring life to his practice. Recordings of patients’ heartbeats serve as a metronome for the songs they learn to play as part of their therapy. Hearing that heartbeat reminds them that they’re alive, even though many of them are facing terminal diagnoses.

“It’s inside of all of us,” says Schreck. “It’s always working, no matter what it sounds like. I think music is something different for everyone. I think it’s something that can be a vehicle to help you get where you’re going or want to go.”

Lisa Boyer is a patient who is going through her second round of cancer treatment. She was diagnosed with breast cancer, and was later told by her orthopedist that the cancer was in her bones.

“I thought, okay, I’m going to die,” she says, remembering hearing the diagnosis. “And then I thought no, I’m alive right now. I’m not going to die. I’m going to live until I die. This is just a way to keep on living and music therapy I think is just wonderful. I love it. I really do.”

Boyer has learned to play 50 songs on the ukulele since beginning sessions with Schreck in November 2017. She says the therapy brings her joy, but it also has practical effects. Some of the medicine used to treat the effects of cancer can affect memory. Playing music help keeps the brain engaged and challenged.

For Schreck, the therapy works both ways. “I’m trying to do something to help them, but also they’ve changed my life,” he says. “They’ve changed the way I look at the world. They give me hope. They make me feel alive. I try to make that a cycle with them as well.

“I like to say this at the end of every session, whether it’s outpatient or inpatient or wherever we are: we’re going to get through this day, and we’re going to get through every day, and that’s that. See you next time.”

This segment originally appeared as part of Kentucky Life episode #2405 which originally aired on November 3, 2018. Watch the full episode.