EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
You might have heard “music soothes the savage beast” or “music soothes the soul.” It’s a common belief that music is a positive force.
Of course, music isn’t a cure for the disease, he pointed out, but it can be a factor in relaxation and stress reduction. These two things, he said, help in the fight against a disease such as cancer or when recovering from a tough round of chemotherapy.
“The important thing is, we want people to be as whole as they can, even after they’re done seeing us,” Shaw said. “Patients want to know what they can do to help themselves, and something like music — whether listening to it or playing it — definitely has been shown to have benefits.”
It might sound strange for someone who spent years studying the science of medicine to advocate for the art of music as a way to help cancer patients, but it’s not a new age practice. Shaw witnessed the use of music and other creative practices in treating cancer patients at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where he served a fellowship.
“During my fellowship at MD Anderson in Houston, they had a very robust integrated program and were looking at other ways to help patients,” Shaw said. “That’s when I began looking at what can I integrate with my patient care.”
The idea, he explained, is to treat the whole person, not just the disease.
“Part of the medical system is set up to be disease focused: What disease do you have and how do we treat it?” Shaw said. “But if you flip this around to what can you do about your health and well-being, it becomes something more positive and something you feel you have a bit more control over.”
While seeking ways to further treat his patients, Shaw thought about how music made him feel.
“Like a lot of people who live in this area, I love music,” he said.
Shaw examined how music encourages relaxation, elevates moods, and lifts spirits. He started encouraging his patients to listen to or perform music, not as an intensive therapy but rather just taking in a live concert, listening to it while at the oncology center, or anywhere else.
And Shaw doesn’t just focus on music.
“I encourage patients to find ways to be creative and find ways to relax,” he said. “Whether it’s music or another form of relaxation. It’s been proven to help patients with nausea and stress and other things associated with treatments or cancer.”
Recently, one patient presented Shaw with a koozie he crafted out of mesquite.
“The important thing is not to do something that causes added stress,” Shaw said.
So, if you get overly frustrated with learning a chord on a guitar, you might want to try something else. Even adult coloring books can be a stress reliever — and you don’t have to stay within the lines.
“The main thing I want people to know is find things that bring you joy,” he added. “It’s important to everyone’s health.”