The Role of Music in My Life with Cancer

December 20, 2018

I was first diagnosed with cancer when I was six years old, and I can still remember passing the time during treatment by listening to the “weekly top 40” that my brother and I recorded on a cassette tape.

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I was first diagnosed with cancer when I was six years old, and I can still remember passing the time during treatment by listening to the “weekly top 40” that my brother and I recorded on a cassette tape. The combination of lyrics and melody had a way of taking my mind somewhere else. And let’s be honest, I would have preferred to have been anywhere else. I was more than 10 years away from having a driver’s license, but music became my vehicle to escape the realities of cancer, even if only temporarily.

The importance of music only grew as I got older in helping me find joy while also having cancer. I started to play guitar when I was 14. At this point I had been diagnosed with cancer twice, which had been very challenging for me. I found that playing not only took my mind off of my cancer, it made people feel good, it made them happy — and that made me happy.

Now, as an adult, I’ve had the opportunity to write and record songs about my experience with cancer. I toured and performed in front of other people with cancer who also used music as an outlet, which was a “full circle” moment in my life. Through my music I tell my story of living with cancer, and often hear from audience members that by sharing my story, I sometimes help them with theirs.

The number of cancer survivors in the U.S. is only growing — which is a tremendous thing. But, as survivors, we can – and should – help each other navigate the challenges we face by sharing our experiences, fears, coping mechanisms and outlets.

So, what’s your outlet?

Ryan is a Bristol-Myers Squibb Patient Ambassador who has been diagnosed with cancer four times. He is currently participating in Life with Cancer, a video series from Bristol-Myers Squibb that calls attention to the challenges of living with cancer, with the goal of helping people navigate life after diagnosis and feel supported every step of the way. Visit BMS.com for more information.


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