A Cancer Survivor's Songbook


Let music keep you company during and after cancer.

Music can truly save your life; when you're in the deepest despair, listening to just the right song could keep you from jumping off the edge. And it can be self-affirming when everything is going great. Crank up the radio and go for a cruise in the valley in the early fall; there's nothing else like it in the world. Sing at the top of your voice.

Of course, music preferences are extremely personal, and while you undoubtedly have your own choices, here are some of my life-affirming favorites.

Lately, I've been thinking of Sondheim's words "Sometimes just pretzels and beer, but I'm here." These, of course, are lyrics to "I'm Still Here," from the play Follies. As a cancer survivor, this song rings true to me. In this song, the character sings about all of the things she's been through (the Great Depression, J. Edgar Hoover, etc), and she's still here. If I were to create my "I'm Still Here" song, I'd sing about two cancers, chemo, radiation and a double mastectomy. And I'm still here.

There are other great survival songs that can be appreciated by cancer survivors.

Two obvious ones are "Stronger," by Jorgen Elofsson et al, and "Overcomer," by David Garcia et al. If you haven't listened to these, why not check them out today? Their messages are for anyone who's been through any kind of life-threatening trauma, while their videos portray cancer patients and ultimately cancer survivors doing what they do best: making it through. These songs inspire me to go on even when things seem very dark. And when you've reached an end to your current struggle, they could help you celebrate your triumph over adversity.

And we can't forget "Staying Alive," by the Bee Gees. Try putting this tune on loud and digging into the disco vibe. Dance around the room because you are staying alive. Ha, ha, ha, staying alive!

A beautiful song that will bring tears to your eyes after a cancer experience is Mariah Carey's "Hero." When listening to this song, feel your own inner strength and gratitude for being truly alive.

If you want a song that describes life and the living process well after you've ascended from a cancer nightmare, try Sondheim's "Being Alive," from his musical Company. This song will send shivers down your back and remind you what it means to be above ground.

Sometimes, I listen to R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts" to remember that part of being alive is enduring pain and that everybody shares this in common. You have survived something cataclysmic, and the road won't be necessarily easy all the time. Allow yourself to come back to life's ebb and flow, and always seek an equilibrium, a balance between pain and suffering and joy.

"I Will Survive," by Gloria Gaynor, although about a failed love relationship, will suggest to you in an upbeat fashion that you can get through difficult times. You've made it this far, and you'll continue to keep on keeping on. You will survive!

Bob Marley's "Survival," is another song that will get you up on your feet. This reggae masterpiece will have you swaying and waving your arms in solidarity with other survivors. No matter how you slice it, there is sometimes a sliver between life and death, and you are on the side of life!

Another favorite showtune of mine is "To Life," by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock, from Fiddler on the Roof. I listen to this one to rev up my circulation and dance with joy over living at its finest.

Finally, Kelly Mooney's Easter version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" tells me who ultimately pulled me through two cancers. I listen to this when I want to be in the presence of God and be humbled that, indeed, I am still here.

These are just a few songs that can help you celebrate and ultimately understand your life after cancer. Sometimes we forget, amidst appointments, pill-popping and operations, and finally hearing those words, "You are cancer free," that music can help us interpret our experiences. I hope you enjoy them, from one survivor to another!

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