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Cancer Care Chronicles
June 2018

Our Shared Humanity—Music as a Means of Facilitating Conversations on End-of-Life Care

Author Affiliations
  • 1The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island
JAMA Oncol. 2018;4(6):771-772. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2017.4186

The patient wanted to hear opera arias because they were a reflection of what she once was.

We were alone in the room: just me, her, and my flute. I played her the most ethereal melodies from opera’s storied repertoire. She recognized them. She smiled. She warmed up, perhaps for the first time since entering the hospital.

The patient was a 60-year-old woman with ovarian cancer. When I first met her, she had already been in the hospital for 2 weeks. Diagnosed as having recurrent small bowel obstruction and having undergone exploratory surgery, her prognosis did not look good. Members of the multidisciplinary medical team—the palliative care physician, oncologist, chaplain, social worker, and nurses—were all having trouble getting through to her. They reported that she was unwilling to accept the fact that there was no more curative treatment for her cancer.

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