|Copyright 2011-2013 Terry O. Scott
On Both Sides of the Diagnosis, page 53
Chapter 6: Survival:
Music Therapy, Having Fun, Playing Games, and Killing the Special Treatment
I: U2 and Music Therapy
In my opinion, this is the most important chapter in this book. Getting through induction and
consolidation will take nearly all of the energy in your body, mind and soul; therefore, refueling yourself is
an essential part of attaining a cure for cancer.
I believe that music therapy is a necessity during chemotherapy. Whether you’re into rap, rock, metal, or
country, music can rev your engine, warm your heart, induce peace of mind and heal a battered soul.
Furthermore, you’ll need all of these benefits when battling for your life.
Most people today are familiar with the rock band U2. They have been a worldwide force for peace,
empowerment, charity and positive energy. For me, U2 turned my hardest of days around. Songs like
“Tomorrow” off the October album reminded me that I was not alone and to keep looking forward to the
next day. Among a myriad of other things, the song “One” would make me realize that things could always
be worse. The entire Joshua Tree album would inspire me to keep trudging on because “I Still Haven’t
Found What I’m Looking For.” Finally, nothing pumped me up for more chemo than the U2 songs “Bullet
the Blue Sky,” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Okay, those songs and almost every song by Metallica and
Guns ‘N’ Roses. The point is that music can be an important outlet for patients, and music can be a
source of motivation and inspiration. It’s no wonder that music therapy is now a part of most childhood
II: Have Fun? Yes, Fun:
A Short about Mike Quinn
Pranks are essential refueling tools, especially during long admissions and painful hospital visits.
It seems that every cancer patient knows at least one other patient who appears to be at the cancer
center all of the time. This particular patient has been battling their disease for so many years that they
have a Buddhalike calmness about them. They know the ropes. There is virtually nothing they have not
seen yet. They pull pranks all of the time in the hospital, and they can make you laugh when you’re
grieving the most. During my treatment, that person was Mike Quinn. To this day, I tell cancer patients
my stories about Mike. He is still touching people’s lives more than seventeen years after his passage out
of this world.
When I first met Mike Quinn, he had been fighting cancer for about eight years already, and I had been
fighting it for only a few weeks. Having no hair, and weighing about as much as a feather—due to the
chemo—he looked like he was only ten years old, even though he was nineteen, which was four years older
than I was. I was sitting with my mom and sulking in the corner of a cancer clinic. Mike sat down right
between us and said to me, “What happened to you is the shittiest thing that can happen to anyone. It’s
absolute bullshit. None of us would wish cancer upon even our worst enemies.” I had just met the guy,
and he was cursing in front of my mother. I was rattled but, he had my attention. He continued, “I know
that you’re thinking this is not me. You’re thinking these bald kids don’t know me, and I am just going to
do whatever I have to do to leave this part of my life behind.” He went on, “I know you are thinking this
way because I felt the same way eight years ago when I started treatment. I’ll tell you this: you are going
to go through some serious shit, but we are all going through the same shit. So, you can stay over here
and battle alone, or you can come join us other kids and have fun with this situation. You are welcome
whenever you are ready.” With that, he stood up and walked back to the group.
I was overwhelmed. Have fun? I thought the kid was a quack. However, eventually, he would become my
best friend in the hospital.
The week after I first met Mike, I finally approached him and the other chemo kids (That’s how I referred
to them at that time). I said to Mike, “Okay, I’ll bite. How can this be fun?”
He turned to Steve, a gigantic former high school football player with T-Cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia,
and Mike said, “Steve, let’s call the nurses.”
Steve kinked his IV line with his hands and an alarm began to beep. As a new patient, I was confused and
a little scared. I thought: couldn’t he clot his IV by stopping the flow? Couldn’t the chemo leak?
In less than a minute, our nurses (Debbie and Maribeth) arrived and asked, “Who’s beeping? Who’s
Mike smiled his witty, devilish grin and said, “Forget the IV, I saw somebody in the hallway bring in
doughnuts about five minutes ago, so if you don’t mind bringing us some of the good stuff, I’ll fix Steve’s
The next thing I knew, we were eating doughnuts and having fun in the hospital. This began my year-
long friendship with Mike Quinn. We conspired in many pranks throughout the hospital, before his
eventual passing, which helped inspire me to promise myself to become a children’s cancer doctor.
Mike proudly approached me one day, about a month before his death, and he said, “Come with me to my
bone marrow today. You have to check these bad boys out.”
I went later that day to watch the procedure. This is an incredibly painful process. The pain is almost
indescribable. I was thinking: what does he mean by “bad boys”? He pulled down his pants for the bone
marrow aspirate to be taken from his hip. Mike’s boxer shorts had “No, No, No” printed all over them.
He said, “Turn out the lights.”
In the dark, his boxers glowed “Yes, Yes, Yes.” That was Mike after eight years of fighting cancer. That
was Mike on a day where he was to undergo an excruciatingly painful test, and its results were supposed
to tell doctors how well the battle was going, a moment during which most patients’ feel like they have
their stomachs tied in knots. Yet, on such a day, Mike was thrilled about his underwear.
At that time, Mike was a Michigan State University Spartan fan, and I was a University of Michigan
Wolverine fan, so we disliked each other’s teams. If one of us was already in the hospital and learned that
the other guy was getting admitted too, we would sneak into the other guy’s room before he got there
and would decorate it with stuff from the school he disliked. One day, among all of the decorations that I
put in his room, I wrote “M Go Blue” in honor of my Wolverines on one of the jugs that nurses place in our
rooms for us to pee into when we are too weak to get out of bed.
Mike grinned and said, “Andy, this is perfect. I know just what to do with my University of Michigan pee
jug.” He turned around, peed into it, and he declared, “I always wanted to piss on a Wolverine.”
Again, that was Mike. Yet, that is the kind of fun-loving good humor and attitude that everyone who is
painfully fighting the good fight needs to have in order to refuel their spirit. Hospital pranks and laughter
are a necessity.
During one of my long hospital stays—this time for shingles and a fever—doctors put me on an antibiotic
called vancomycin. When I was on this antibiotic, I developed a syndrome, where my whole face and body
turned tomato red. Doctors then gave me Benadryl to help my skin, and they slowed the rate of the
antibiotic pumping into my body. Now check this out: residents and interns are easy to rattle. They are
young doctors in training. They frequently go on rounds through the hospital with doctors to learn about
patients and medicine. Interns and residents really want to help, and they don’t want to make mistakes.
Hence, I stuffed pillows under my covers to look like my body, and then I drew a face on a red balloon, put
my U of M hat on it and made the balloon stick out from my covers. Next, I had a nurse go and interrupt
the doctor’s rounds to tell them that I was getting redder from the vancomycin. I hid under the bed.
Soon, the doctor and the whole team of residents and interns came into my room. They saw the red
balloon man in my bed and began laughing. It was a fun and memorable moment for all of us. Like I said,
refueling is essential to the well-being of patients (and the well-being of doctors too for that matter).
Incidentally, after I became a doctor, I went one day to evaluate one of my cancer patients—a child named
Joey—for his acute difficulty in breathing. Despite the obvious bucket hanging over his bed and the string
hanging down from the bucket to his bedside, I leaned over to listen to his chest. He tugged the string,
and tipped the contents of the bucket onto my head, covering me in water and confetti. Joey was the
same child who would often call pizza joints in Lansing, Michigan, and tell them his sob story of being a
childhood cancer patient in Sparrow Hospital for chemotherapy. He would invoke the Good Samaritan in
the pizza guys and gals, and they would deliver him free pizza, time and time again. When I saw Joey, I
felt as if I was watching the circle of life continue because he reminded me of Mike Quinn. It was just ten
years later. They both approached their disease like this: cancer is a lemon, but making lemonade out of it
makes your time fighting more bearable.