The power of music: our Shine cancer playlist

In this blog post, Shine Network Support Officer Neil shares some of the songs that helped members of our Shine community during and after cancer treatment.


At Shine Cancer Support, we know first-hand the difference that music can make when you are going through cancer treatment. When I was going through radiotherapy I banned the staff from playing their music (One Direction and Abba – not my cup of tea!) and played my own music instead to feel like I still had some control. After treatment finished and some of the real difficulties with my physical and mental health emerged, I found that music was the key to helping me deal with my emotions.

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Blog post author Neil, who is not a fan of One Direction

After a few posts in our private Facebook group regarding music, we thought we might create a Shine playlist. These are the songs that members of our community feel have helped them. Hopefully there are a few gems here that you can uncover for yourself!

Katy Perry – ‘Roar’

Our Oxford Network Leader Sam said that this song helped her get up and about during recovery.

Coldplay – ‘Up&Up’

Angela said that her friend played it to her during chemotherapy and the lyrics make her very emotional – especially the last line. Listen for yourself and see what you think!

Mellah – ‘Cigarette Lighter’

Sean suggested this song, so I checked it out. It’s something a bit different and really worth a listen. I really like the line ‘I’ll keep walking’.

Sia – ‘Angel By The Wings’ and Jess Glynne – ‘I’ll Be There’

Hazel said that Sia’s music really helped her – especially this song, with the lyrics ‘You can do anything.’

“This is the one song I played repeatedly whilst undergoing treatment – the lyrics perfectly matched how I was feeling. it repeats ‘you can do anything’; she almost shouts the line out at the top of her lungs and it made me feel empowered. It’s just such a powerful, beautiful song.”

Hazel also listened to the Jess Glynne track ‘I’ll Be There’ a lot.

“It’s an uplifting song, great for singing along to and, whilst I guess it is meant to be about people being there for you, it actually helped me to feel I could support myself. After feeling let down sometimes by others during my illness and treatment, this song made me think ‘I’ve got my own back’.”

The Greatest Showman – ‘This Is Me’

Shine member Rachel found these lyrics apt, if a bit cheesy!

Foo Fighters – ‘These Days’

Joe said that this Foo Fighters song helped his wife. He encourages her to play it at his funeral as a message to anyone trying to tell her that things will be OK.

Soul Fly – ‘Fly High’

Shine member Neil thinks that this is a really positive song.

Elton John – ‘I’m Still Standing’ and Mary J Blige – ‘No More Drama’

According to Jacqui, her first song choice doesn’t really need an explanation! She related to ‘No More Drama’ a lot and would blare it out in hospital.

Avenue Q – ‘For Now’

Jenni told me that this song reminded her that whatever she is going through, it will pass.

Marconi Union – ‘Weightless’

Yulia recommended this track for some relaxation and meditation.

Rag‘n’Bone Man – ‘Human’

I picked this song from a long list of Jenny’s favourite music. It’s one that a lot of fellow Shiny folk could relate to!

Fleur East – ‘Girl On Fire’

Jo chose this song because it reminds her of a great friend and fellow Shine member who died.

Sara Bareilles – ‘She Used To Be Mine’

This song resonates with Karen, who relates this song to her feeling of becoming a different person after cancer.

RuPaul – ‘Champion’

Lauren had loads of song suggestions, but she really enjoyed blasting RuPaul at her treatment in hospital so I think that this track deserves a place on our list!

Keb Mo – ‘I’m Amazing’

Daniela finds this track really relaxing and highly recommends it for meditation.

Destiny’s Child – ‘Survivor’

Rosie has lots of favourite cancer songs.

“They’re all super cheesy but I don’t care! A few days after I was diagnosed, I took part in the Cancer Research Pretty Muddy race with one of my close friends who had been diagnosed a year or so before me and her team. It was touch-and-go if I’d still take part [in the race] because I knew it was going to be really emotive, but I decided to get over myself and do it anyway. As I arrived, before meeting up with the others, ‘Survivor’ was playing. Yeah, it made me cry, but it’s what I needed to hear at that time.”

Ben Howard – ‘Keep your Head Up’

Marbellys listens to this song when she’s feels down. Music has really helped her in training for a half marathon too, and this is one of the tracks on her motivational playlist.

P!nk – ‘Just Like a Pill’

Angela told me: “This is the perfect treatment song, and it reminds me of my lovely Great Escape crew belting it out together in karaoke.” Karaoke is part of the evening fun at our twice-annual Great Escape retreats – but don’t worry, there’s no obligation to sing!

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At Shine we love a good singalong!

Bon Jovi – ‘Have a Nice Day’

Mike said that Bon Jovi’s ‘Have a Nice Day’ helps him when ‘the world gets in his way’!

Epica – ‘Delerium’

A great symphonic metal track, and Irene’s ‘it will all get better’ song.

Sia – ‘Unstoppable’

I think we can all recognise the helpfulness of this song – just like Shine member Liv, who nominated it for the playlist.

The Spice Girls – ‘Spice Up Your Life’

The Spice World – 2019 tour went on sale just as Joe was given his first chemotherapy date. The boppy, upbeat nature of the Spice Girls’ music really helped push him through the whole experience. This song took him back to easier times in life.

Florence + The Machine – ‘Dog Days Are Over’ and Bring Me The Horizon – ‘It Never Ends’

To finish the playlist, here are my two choices! I love the lyrics in the first song, especially ‘happiness hit her, like a bullet in the back.” I love lyrics, as shown in my next song choice. ‘It Never Ends’ is heavy and loud, and I listen to it on a bad day when I’m feeling down. The line ‘That I’m OK, that I’m fine, that’s it’s all just in my mind’ is one I can relate to a lot – especially with my day-to-day symptoms.

 

Fancy listening to all these songs? We’ve put together a Shine YouTube playlist just for you! Listen here. What songs would you add to our collection? Let us know in the comments.

Ten things I’ve learned in ten years of cancer

In our latest blog, one of our founding Directors, Ceinwen, writes about what she’s learned in the ten years since she was diagnosed with cancer.IMG_3361


On 4 February it will be exactly ten years since I was diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It’s also World Cancer Day, though I probably can’t claim that’s all my doing.

Cancerversaries can be a weird time. For me, I’m usually mentally taken back to being told that I had an aggressive blood cancer that had spread throughout my body. I had a six-week-old premature baby – and was then told I had a 40% chance of living two years. One of the most awful things I’ve ever faced was looking at my tiny child and wondering if I’d get to see her grow up.

In any case, I’m still here! It turns out that my haematologist was right – spending six months in the hospital on a high dose chemotherapy regimen offered the best chance for my survival and got me into long-term remission. It was, as one doctor told me, a question of short-term pain for long-term gain, and I’m incredibly lucky the gamble worked. The thing that no one warned me about was that there would be some longer-term pains too; pains that aren’t easily ignored or put to rest because you have to learn to live with it in some way. So with that in mind, here are ten things I’ve learned over the last ten years…

1. It really is the simple things that matter

Spending six months in the hospital, largely in isolation, gives you a lot of time to think. When I wasn’t feeling awful, I did manage to squeeze in some guided meditation between Homes Under the Hammer and the relentless taking of my ‘obs’. 

The guided meditation that I followed had this section at the end where you were supposed to focus on something you wanted to realise in the future. The only thing I ever focused on was walking hand-in-hand with my daughter on her way back from school. My daughter is 10 now (and almost at an age where she doesn’t want to hold my hand!) but every time I pick her up from school, a little part of me smiles because there is so much joy in feeling her little fingers in mine.

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Hanging out with this little person (and her dad) makes me happy.

We often think it’s the biggest things that matter the most, and that we have to ‘make memories’, but one thing I’ve learned is that the very best memories can also be the simplest.

2. You can’t come out the same way you went in

In his book the Emperor of all Maladies, Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee recounts the story of Carla, a patient with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia who, like me, spent months in the hospital while receiving treatment. 

“What went into that room and what came out were two different people”, Carla says – a thought that resonated profoundly with me when I first read it.

Through Shine, I’ve spent years working with other younger adults with cancer and I can think of very few who were the same people afterwards as they were before. This isn’t always a bad thing and in no way means that they’re ‘defined’ by their illness, but it’s hard to have a life-threatening disease and stay the same. I think it would probably be weird if you did. 

There’s a lot of grief that goes with a cancer diagnosis and treatment, not least because you lose the sense of invincibility that you didn’t even know you had. For a lot of people I know, this can be a useful realisation: once you realise that time is limited, life can simplify. Why waste time on people you don’t like or a job you hate when you’re staring death hard in the eye? 

3. Find your peace of mind

I don’t really like yoga or pilates (and believe me, I have tried). Once you’ve got cancer though, everyone seems to think you need to do them to relax. One thing I’ve learned is that finding a way to quiet your mind is important – whether that’s through yoga or something else. For me, that something else is running. 

Part of my treatment involved having chemotherapy injected directly into my spine – a specific type of horror that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I survived each injection by mentally picturing myself running up Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath. If I could just get to the top, the chemo would be done and the needle would be out of my spine. 

47ecf11f-6c4a-46a0-8bd2-518bfd0c9f38Once I was out of the hospital, I found running was one of the only ways I could calm my mind and rid myself of the constant worries about dying. Writing in Wired magazine last year after the death of US runner Gabriel Grunewald, editor Nicholas Thompson noted that running had helped him too: I still run and train in no small part because it’s a reminder that I’m alive. At times, I’ll snap back to the months after my treatments, and times when I felt like I could barely walk, and remember how beautiful it is to be able to run.” 

I couldn’t have said it better myself and to mark my ten years I’ll be running 10km in May with (at least) ten friends – and hoping to raise £10,000. If you’d like to donate to help me reach my goal, please click here! And if you’d like to join us on the run, let me know! 

4. There is no magic cure

I really wish there was a magic cure for cancer or that Big Pharma was hiding ‘The Truth’ but as far as I can tell, neither is true. Through Shine I’ve met some of the world’s leading cancer researchers who themselves are disappointed that there isn’t a magic bullet out there (or a conspiracy that they can be part of!). As our knowledge of cancer evolves, we’re increasingly learning that cancer isn’t one disease but many, meaning the chance that one thing is going to cure all cancers becomes less likely. That kale and wheatgrass shake your mother’s next-door neighbour has made you? Also unlikely to cure you.

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Sadly, this will not cure your cancer.

And if anyone tells you to forgo chemotherapy while following their specific diet or plan, ask yourself ‘who is making money from this?’. Yes, Big Pharma makes money from their drugs but that guy selling you a raw juice diet is making money too – and only one of them has been proven to work.

5. You don’t always need to be positive

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, chances are that more than one person has told you that you just ‘need to be positive’. But do you, really? 

Being diagnosed with cancer isn’t a positive experience. It sucks and, even ten years later, I’d give it all back in a heartbeat if I could. Very early on in my treatment, my haematologist told me that while being positive might have an impact on my quality of life, it wouldn’t have any impact on the success of the treatment. At the time, I’m not sure I believed him. Months later, as the sadness of my situation fully hit me, those were words I often clung to. Feeling sad wasn’t going to make me any physically worse and there was a relief in knowing that. That’s not to say I was never positive, but I didn’t force myself to feel good about something that was pretty crap just because someone else thought I should. What I focused on instead was having a good time when I could, hanging out with my husband, laughing with friends, and reading celebrity magazines to relax.

6. Cancer patients get the flu too

My cancer treatment gave me a chronic immune deficiency which requires an infusion at the hospital every four weeks, and every time something physically goes wrong, I tend to blame cancer. It turns out, though, that I’m still able to experience what I think of as ‘Muggle Problems’. 

CrunchieA few months ago, I chipped a tooth eating some Halloween candy and became convinced that my teeth were crumbling due to my cancer/cancer treatment/immune deficiency. It was actually, as my dentist said, ‘wear and tear’ which was not helped by eating copious amounts of Cadbury’s Crunchie bars. I mentally take any physical illnesses a lot harder now because I’m so aware of how drastically and quickly things can go wrong. I also try a lot harder to push myself when I’m not well, just to prove that I’m not really ill. Unfortunately it turns out that even regular people need sick days – and there isn’t much benefit in trying to push through them.

7. Animals are amazing

If you’ve been to a Shine conference or Great Escape lately, you’ll know that we’re big fans of therapy animals – from dogs to alpacas. I always liked animals but post-diagnosis I’ve become a much bigger fan. Why? Probably because animals can offer unconditional attention while asking for little in return… selfish, I know, but also very joyful. If you can’t have a dog, I’d highly recommend giving Borrow My Doggy a look (I met a great canine friend this way!). 

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My cat

I have also just got a cat and I’m loving having another creature in my house. Given his feline manner, his is a more conditional ‘feed-me-and-I’ll-love-you’ type of attention, but it’s still very therapeutic**!

8. Cancer isn’t an immediate death sentence

Before I entered Cancerland, I thought a cancer diagnosis was pretty much a live-or-die situation. Perhaps the biggest and best change I’ve seen in the last ten years is that more and more people are living longer with cancer. I know many people with Stage 4 bowel cancer who have defied the odds and now have ‘no evidence of disease’, while many other friends have been treated with immunotherapies and are living far longer than they would have ten years ago. That’s not to say that living with cancer is easy: it’s not, and it presents us with new emotional and  physical challenges. That said, if you know someone who is diagnosed with cancer then remember that treatments are changing all the time, and that there is an ever-widening gap between a diagnosis and the end of the line. 

9. Pace yourself

I’m going to be honest here and say that while this is something I’ve learned, it’s not necessarily something I practice

Fatigue is a huge post-diagnosis issue and, thankfully, one that is getting more recognition by doctors and researchers. Yet that doesn’t make it easier to deal with. If I overdo it, I’ll wake up feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck, and cancer-related fatigue doesn’t go away after a good nap. While I have always used a more of a ‘crash-and-burn’ type of approach, I have learned that pacing can be valuable, if annoying (why do I need to pace myself when no one else has to?). I’ve learned that exercise can help to manage fatigue – and also to acknowledge that if I have overdone it, there’s nothing wrong with taking some time out. 

10. Find your people

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Me and the Shine team at our October 2019 Great Escape

Some of the first people I met back when we started Shine also had babies and cancer. Others I met had had their careers dramatically interrupted. They were exhausted, and they were suffering from anxiety. That may not sound like a fun bunch, but I probably laughed longer and harder with my Shine friends than with anyone else, partly because we had the kind of shared experiences that bond you together in a powerful way. Many of those people remain my close friends and there is something amazingly comforting about being surrounded by people who just ‘get it’. I have a great husband and wonderful friends and family, but having friends who truly understand what living with cancer and its aftermath is like has given me the strength to keep going in my darkest times. If you haven’t found your people yet, give Shine (or another group) a try. You’ve got nothing to lose and very possibly an awful lot to gain!

**As I was writing this, my cat left a dead mouse on the doormat, which my daughter then stepped on with her socked foot. Perhaps not the therapeutic experience I was looking for.