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Award Entry: Music Therapy Is Helping Cancer Patients At Coast Hospital
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Music therapist Nicole Ribet at Singing River's Regional Cancer Center
Photo by Evelina Burnett

Music is being used to help cancer patients at one Mississippi Gulf Coast hospital. MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, music therapy has been shown to help with pain management, anxiety and other issues faced by those receiving treatment for cancer.

Tony and Peggy DiCarlo are seated in a small patient room at Singing River Health System's Regional Cancer Center. They're getting ready for a short session with music therapist Nicole Ribet.

Peggy has come to the cancer center today to see her doctor and for chemotherapy. She has stage IV liver and lung cancer. But before the medical treatment, DiCarlo and her husband spend about 20 minutes with the music therapist. Before playing "The Great Speckled Bird," Ribet reads the lyrics and explains why she chose it today.

“I just thought it was inspiring, about having faith and overcoming obstacles, like a bird overcomes storms,” Ribet says.

And then, together, while Ribet plays the music on her 12-string guitar, they sing.

Ribet is here at Singing River’s Regional Cancer Center through a grant from the Live Strong Foundation. The grants were given to 13 sites around the country to institute a part-time music therapy program for one year.

Ribet, one of 27 board-certified music therapists in Mississippi, says, in an oncology setting, music therapy can be used individually and in group settings to help with pain management, anxiety, nausea and other issues.

“Music is very connected to the brain – all parts of the brain," she says. "It affects you physically, emotionally, spiritually. It's just an all-encompassing tool."

In addition to individual sessions like this one, Ribet leads small groups and plays her guitar in the chemotherapy infusion room. Peggy DiCarlo recalls the difference the music made for her while in the infusion room.

"It made the time pass by faster, for sure," she says. "And it kind of takes your mind off of what's going on. It really helps. Music - to me, music just makes you happy. It lifts your spirits, really, like nothing else can."

Jim Pierce, a professor of music therapy at William Carey University, says the field has been around since World War II and what makes it different from, say, just playing relaxing music is that music therapy involves specific goals, such as reducing anxiety or managing pain.

"You’re designing something to facilitate changes with that person that are non-musical in nature," he says. "It’s not teaching and it’s not entertainment. We’re using music as a means to improve the overall well-being in one of those goal areas."

Research has shown that music therapy can reduce the perception of pain, and even reduce anxiety and nausea in patients receiving chemotherapy.

Peggy says the music therapy session today has really helped her mood.

"Oh, I feel like - what chemo?" she jokes. "I feel lighter, lighter spirit. I really enjoyed it."