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Music therapy a lifeline for Concord cancer patients

The music therapy programme is supported by Dry July donations.

A music therapist playing an acoustic guitar for a patient in the Concord Cancer Centre.
SydneyConnect Image: Registered music therapist Oli O’Reilly playing for a patient in the Concord Cancer Centre.​

What does the cancer unit of a hospital sound like?

To some, it might sound like the beep of a medical device or the rattle of trolley wheels on lino floors but for Sonia Gabko, it often sounds like Tina Turner and Crowded House.

''I like all sorts of music,'' she said.

''Anything from Ed Sheeran to Celine Dion, I love.''

Sonia regularly attends the Cancer Centre at Concord Repatriation General Hospital, where she’s receiving treatment for multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer.

She often listens to music at home to help her take her mind off her illness and thanks to the centre’s music therapy programme, she can do the same when she comes to Concord for treatment.

''It sort of lifts the mood a little bit when you’re in a place where you want to forget what you’ve got and live a normal life,'' she said.

For registered music therapist Oli O’Reilly, having a sing-along with patients is all about helping them to shift their focus.

''I can’t treat the cancer but I can help people to manage the [mental] side effects,'' he said.

''There’s a lot of waiting in hospital. When you’re waiting it sets your mind off so if I can keep people’s minds busy on something else it helps that time to pass quickly.''

Oli has been playing music to patients at the Cancer Centre for almost five years and says he loves what he does.

''It’s a very good day job to have. I get to work with people in a fairly difficult point of their life. My focus is on helping them to pass through that moment and get to the other side,'' he said.

''You get into that emotional space and sometimes quite quickly, you can meet somebody and I might only see them once but I might know their whole life story just from spending an hour with them.''

Chloe Moddel, Cancer Services Development Manager, has seen first-hand the difference that the music therapy makes to patients.

''It’s a very difficult period of their lives so it’s really nice that we’re able to improve their day a bit,'' she said.

''Patients light up when they see Oli play his guitar and it gives them a few minutes of feeling a bit better.

''Their families also love seeing their family member that’s getting treatment feeling that little bit better and brighter from the music and the positivity that Oli brings.''

Concord Cancer Centre’s music therapy programme is supported through the Dry July Foundation.

A number of the centre’s staff, including Chloe, are forgoing alcohol and going dry this July to help ensure funding for the programme.

''I thought it was a really good opportunity to promote our new centre and promote the things that we’ve been able to fund from Dry July money to support patients in their experience here,'' Chloe said.

Oli is also taking part in Dry July and hopes that people support their efforts.

''Not everyone can go dry for July but you can tip in the jar for someone else and it really helps to keep the programme going,'' he said.

Sonia also wants to encourage people to support Concord’s Dry July campaign in any way they can.

''Please donate. Every little bit helps and you’re investing in someone’s life,'' she said.

''What can seem like a small ask can make a big difference.''

You can donate to the Concord Cancer Centre’s Dry July campaign here.