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Medical student heals through music and friendship

Posted Nov 09 2011 6:04pm
November 9, 2011 - Posted by tamilb

Bryan Sisk, here giving his little neice a guitar lesson, has used his guitar to reach out to pediatric patients.

When I was at my book signing at Cleveland Clinic  last month, I met Bryan Sisk, a young medical student who used to work with Dr. Tuohy (who is developing the first preventive breast cancer vaccine there).  Bryan told me how he wrote a book, A Lasting Effect: Reflections on Music and Medicine, about his experiences playing guitar and singing songs to patients at the Clinic’s Children’s Hospital. He gave me a copy of the book and I just got around to reading it.

Once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. A Lasting Effect is less than 100 pages but it is full of stories and poems that put things in perspective about my cancer experience. I was amazed by Bryan’s depiction of the grace and resiliency of the children and their parents as they face life-threatening and life-altering diseases. Not all of the young patients have cancer; some have heart problems, epilepsy or other conditions.

Reading the book broke and warmed my heart at the same time.  The stories show the power of music and simply being present for these kids. Bryan tells of one patient whom nurses warned him about being difficult. Knowing that Bryan was carrying a guitar, rather than a needle or other invasive device, changed the child’s whole disposition.

Many of the stories are happy and hopeful, but some are tear-jerkers. Take this poem, for example:


In the first room I enter

Is a young boy I’d seen

For several months in the past

But not recently

“Look Mom, It’s Bryan”

He yelled happily

“It’s been such a long time

Since you last came to see me”

He showed me his Legos

And explained his game to me

As he played with his toys


His mother whispered quietly

“He relapsed in December,

His cancer came back

Now he’s admitted for chemo

Four days at a time.”

I solemnly nod

But keep my smile for him

Another painful reminder

Of why these sick kids come in

It’s passages like this that make me feel like my problems are small. I’m an adult; I’ve lived a great life; and I’m feeling healthy. I wonder aloud how I would handle my child being sick. At the same time, Bryan’s work gives me hope that there is a new generation of doctors who truly care about the individuals they treat.

Bryan, now a fourth-year medical student, rarely has time to play for patients these days. But he told me has trained a first-year student to take over the helm. Bryan is considering pediatric oncology as a specialty. He certainly has already had wonderful training.

A Lasting Effect: Reflections on Music and Medicine by Bryan Sisk, is available online at Amazon and Createspace .  Additionally, the book is available at several Cleveland bookstores, including Joseph-Beth Booksellers at the Cleveland Clinic, Mac’s Backs on Coventry, Visible Voice in Tremont, Appletree Books on Fairmount, and Matthew’s Medical Books on Euclid.

If you like the book, then please “like” it on . By the way, if you like my book, From Incurable to Incredible, “like it on my page, too!

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 9th, 2011 at 7:04 PM and is filed under , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the feed. You can , or from your own site.
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