When Tom Dietz was diagnosed with renal cancer for the second time, he turned to music therapy to relieve the stress and shock he felt.
On a recent Monday morning, the 55-year-old Scottsdale man joined a circle of cancer patients and survivors in a group drumming session at the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare Shea hospital. Music therapist Jim Merrell led the group in "speaking" through the drums — using the instruments to communicate their feelings and thoughts about their disease.
The patients pounded, tapped and patted the drums with their hands and mallets. At times the varied sounds blended to create a uniform rhythm; in other moments, the beats of solitary drummers cut through the silence. "I’ve had a lot of apprehension and fear," Dietz said after the class, adding he felt stress was lifted from his body and mind. "This was just terrific; I just felt really good here."
East Valley health care organizations and cancer centers now offer creative programs ranging from art and music therapy to workshops on makeup techniques for cancer patients.
Yoga and relaxation sessions bring a sense of calming and healing, and workshops on journaling and scrapbooking help patients work through the emotions of fighting cancer, said holistic nurse Sherry Zumbrunnen, who teaches at the Piper Center.
Cancer centers nationwide are beginning to offer these types of programs. "The cutting edge in cancer care is the complementary therapies that are available," she said.
The American Cancer Society offers the "Look Good, Feel Better" program to boost the beauty and self-esteem of female cancer patients. Participants learn makeup techniques and receive boxes of glamour cosmetics worth $250 to $300.
Program volunteer Bonnie Skochinski of Scottsdale said many patients enter the session after starting chemotherapy or radiation treatment. "They are at a stage where they need a real pick-me-up," she said.
The women leave the session "smiling and ready to go out for the evening," she said.
Yoga classes and journaling workshops at Scottsdale Healthcare provided healing and therapy for Bobbie Chinski, 63, of Phoenix after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"I was aware that, in addition to all the physical care I was going to get . . . I was going to need a great deal of physical, psychological and spiritual support," she said.
After her doublemastectomy, Chinski learned writing techniques through a journaling workshop taught by Zumbrunnen.
"I was amazed at how putting my feelings down on paper really had a very powerful impact," she said.
Mayo Clinic Hospital in northeast Phoenix has introduced a music therapy program for patients diagnosed with terminal illnesses. Arizona State University graduate students offer patients the choice to hear a harpist, vocalist or an American Indian flutist, harpist or a vocalist at their bedside.
"These are patients that are often overwhelmed by their disease," said Dr. Mark Edwin, program coordinator at Mayo.
"There are sufferings that we cannot reach with traditional approaches of medication, or surgery, or chemotherapy."
East Valley programs for cancer patients
"Look Good, Feel Better" seminar: Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center, Scottsdale, (602) 230-2273; Desert Oncology Center, Mesa, (480) 969-3637; Banner Desert Medical Center, Mesa, (602) 230-2273; East Valley Regional Cancer Center, Chandler, (602) 230-2273; Valley Lutheran Medical Center, Mesa, (602) 230-2273
"Group Drumming Circles" music therapy: Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center, Scottsdale, (480) 675-4636
Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center, Scottsdale, (480) 675-4636
"Journaling" workshop: Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center, Scottsdale, (480) 675-4636
Stress Management, Relaxation Therapy classes: Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center, Scottsdale, (480) 657-1981