Breast cancer lesson number 64: Music does for the soul what medicine does for the body

Life is like a piece of music. Sometimes you’re happy just getting carried along by the rhythm, rewinding to replay the chorus or fast-forwarding to the high notes. But sometimes, you will crave a song that understands you perfectly, a song that speaks when words fail.


That’s why I believe everyone needs a playlist. By this, I don’t mean a list of the most meaningful and profound songs of all time, carefully crafted over a series of years to offer a window into your soul (trust me, you wouldn’t get far). By this, I mean a list of songs that capture a moment in your life and that sing to your tune.

They don’t have to mean anything to anyone else to make the cut. They don’t have to be particularly groundbreaking (music appreciation is subjective after all). They just have to inspire you, compel you to smile and make you want to keep fighting, whatever it is you’re fighting for. A great playlist is one that has been written by you, for your ears only. A great playlist is never complete.

As someone who has never been wedded to one particular genre of music – and has only ever been to one music concert in a school field and one gig in her lifetime – the soundtrack to this latest period in my life is not likely to rock anyone else’s world. But, that’s not the point. For me, music is a motivational speaker singing away in my ears. Travelling into the hospital or walking around the park it makes me feel untouchable and invincible. It takes me away from cancer and gives me the strength and the confidence to tackle anything in my path.

Before you ask, Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive is not among my greatest hits. Part of me thinks it’s a crime that Nina Samone’s Ain’t got no… I got life isn’t on there. With its lyrics: I got my hair on my head/I got my brains, I got my ears/I got my eyes, I got my nose/I got my mouth, I got my smile… I got life, it sounds like it belongs in the chemo suite. And, with a song title like No Scrubs, you’d think TLC would be a definitate (but it just means nothing to me). The truth is, apart from one recent addition, it’s not a list of cancer anthems. It’s just a list that makes me smile, and that’s all that matters.

So here’s a quick glimpse into my ‘songs-to-keep-Scully-smiling’ playlist. I won’t share them all here (just my top ten) and there’s certainly room for expansion if you have any powerful suggestions. The song titles are linked to You Tube clips, so click away!

1) Stronger (what doesn’t kill you): I thought I’d start with an obvious one from Kelly Clarkson. This gets an airing in part due to the lyrics, which include: What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter/Footsteps even lighter/Doesn’t mean I’m over ’cause you’re gone’, ‘Think you’ve got the best of me/Think you’ve had the last laugh/Bet you think that everything good is gone’ and Thanks to you I’m finally thinking about me/You know in the end the day you left was just my beginning’. But, it was actually recommended to me as the soundtrack to a chemo-related music video on Youtube, that is worth a watch if you are familiar with the inner workings of a cancer day unit.

2) Happy: I couldn’t escape this song when I was going through tests in January. And now, I wouldn’t want to. You won’t catch me clapping, but you will catch me smiling. And, I am not sure I feel like a room without a roof (I quite like my roof). I do, however, love the title and often feel that ‘nothing can bring me down’.

3) Paradise: Every time I hear this Coldplay song, I feel like I am running the last stretch of a marathon race. We all need to believe that paradise is within reach.

4) Halo: I don’t listen to the lyrics (sorry Beyonce), I just soak up the sound.

5) Payphone: Ok, so with lines like: If “Happy Ever After” did exist’ and ‘Now I’m paralysed’, it may seem like a random entry. Again, with this Maroon 5 number, it’s all about the sound and not the sentiment.

6) Just give me a reason: There are some beautiful lyrics in this Pink song. It may have nothing to do with cancer, but I can certainly relate to the words: I let you see the parts of me/
That weren’t all that pretty/And with every touch you fixed them’, ‘we’re not broken just bent’ and ‘it’s been written on the scars in our hearts’.

7) Diamonds: I may not shine bright like a diamond, but there is something on my left hand that certainly does! Again, it’s an upbeat song that brings a smile to my face. Like Rihanna, I choose to be happy.

8) Hall of fame: I could just listen to the intro on repeat, but the rest of this Script song is pretty special too. I’m not after a seat in the hall of fame, but I love the line: ‘You can walk straight through hell with a smile’. It’s certainly one to lift the mood and encourage action.

9) Love story: I listen to this and I don’t think of love, life or Taylor Swift. I think of the film Letters to Juliet. It’s cheesy, but it always teases a smile out of me.

10) A thousand years: Yes, there may be a small link here to my Twilight days (although I would like to add that I have moved on). This song is rather beautiful though and I feel relaxed just listening to the tone of Christina Perri’s voice.

Bonus track: Pride and Prejudice (opening title music). As far as I am concerned, there is only one adaptation of this wonderful book worth watching, and that is the 1995 Colin Firth TV version. The opening credits have always had a place in my heart and listening to the music transports me back to Pemberley and that lake scene!

There are currently 31 songs and 3 sleep tracks on my iPod mini. Whether it’s Jessie J, Gary Barlow, music from The Piano or the BBC concert orchestra, each track is designed to just one thing: make me smile. I have to say, it hasn’t failed me yet. I certainly needed it yesterday.

When you have an invisible illness, no one can see your scars or feel your pain. Music is a magic crutch that keeps you going when everyone around you can’t see that you need a lift.

Whatever challenges you face, I can guarantee there’s a soundtrack out there to help you move forward. You’ll have to find your own rhythm and lyrics that speak to you. But, once you’ve found them, you’ll never be far from a smile.