Saturday, October 17, 2009

Tumbling Dice and Music Will See You Through

Life is a crap shoot. 


Sometimes the dice turn out in your favor, and sometimes they don't. And life gets really difficult and complicated when you are battling a disease or put through a series of scary diagnostic tests.

When I had to endure MRIs, I would get claustrophobic, and the loud noises the machine made would startle me. For the first MRI, I took a Xanax and asked for earphones with classical music. Though I love classical music, it wasn't enough to drown out the dreaded "boom, boom, boom" of the MRI machine. I almost pressed the panic button several times and was sick from stress for the next few days. 

The next year, I took a different approach: I brought one of my Rolling Stones CDs and told the technicians to blast it. They looked startled at me choosing something they didn't consider relaxing. But I knew otherwise.

The first song, ironically, was "Start Me Up," blasting in the control room and in my earphones at 6 a.m. I was still on Xanax, but I felt liberated because the Stones' wonderful music drowned out the MRI's awful noise and drowned out my inner demons, and I relaxed. This would become my tradition each year I got an MRI, and each experience was somewhat enjoyable -- all because I was able to cling to the music I loved.

Music therapy has healing powers. If it can't heal the body, it can heal the mind.

That's what the Rolling Stones did for me. And, yes, here's the part of my posting where I wax poetic about how wonderful this rock group is. 

I really liked the Rolling Stones before I was diagnosed, but after diagnosis and during treatment, it became clear to me how much I needed them in my life. I'd listlessly walk to my car, exhausted from low blood counts and collapse into the driver's seat. (Yes, I drove myself to and from chemotherapy and radiation treatments.) 

Sometimes I sat in the driver's seat and cried because I was so ill and fatigued. Other times I just felt sorry for myself. Other times I wanted to die.

But then I'd turn on the radio and more times than I can recall, there was a Rolling Stones song, and I would find my spirits soar and realized how beautiful life can be -- because their music has so much life to it. And every once in awhile, my favorite song, "Tumbling Dice" would play and transport me to a world where illness didn't exist. 

The Rolling Stones became my favorite group during this fragile period of my life because when their songs came on the radio, pure magic happened. I was transported. I no longer felt like a cancer patient; I no longer felt ill; I felt optimistic and happy -- and powerful. Their music is rife with life -- and fire and power and energy.

And when I was at my lowest points, the Rolling Stones lifted me to a place where illness didn't exist, and they did gimme shelter at a time when I was most scared, most sick, most depressed, and most filled with anxiety and dread.

This posting isn't about how great the Rolling Stones are (although if I've convinced some readers, that would be just dandy). It really is about the healing power of music. No matter what your medical situation, music can see you through the toughest of times. Music therapy isn't a new concept, but it's sometimes all too easy to give in to despair, rather than simply turning on an iPod or a radio.

Whether we are sick or well, music transports us to great places.

By the way, I'm still an avid Rolling Stones fan. 

And every so often, I think back to the time they transported me from a place of illness and despair -- to a place where I had the will to live.

Beth L. Gainer is a professional writer and has published numerous academic and magazine articles, as well as an essay on her breast cancer experience in the anthology Voices of Breast Cancer by LaChance Publishing. She writes about a potpourri of topics, including motherhood and her Chinese adoption experience at, and her cat Hemi blogs at Beth teaches writing and literature at Robert Morris University in the Chicago area. She has a guest posting on The World's Strongest Librarian at

She can be contacted at and


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