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The music of healing

An Ashland High School senior helped to transform Oregon Health & Science University's Knight Cancer Institute into a concert hall both as part of her senior project and as a way to say thanks.

Sarah Honeywell, 17, played violin and provided musical therapy for the patients being treated for cancer. While playing at the hospital in Portland was part of Honeywell's senior project, it was much more to her than a requirement for reaching graduation.

Just before the beginning of her freshman year of high school, Honeywell's brother, Reid, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and he went through treatments at OHSU before the cancer went into remission.

"It was something that was really out of the blue, a huge shock for our family," said Honeywell. "His overcoming cancer has been a really huge part of my high school experience."

After spending so much time at OHSU with her brother, Honeywell wanted to give back to the hospital. She has played the violin for 13 years and describes the instrument as "a huge part of my life."

"I tried to think of how I can use my music to help people," Honeywell said. "And I got this crazy idea."

Honeywell worked on her project with Keren McCord, a social worker at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. McCord also was the social worker who helped her family during her brother's time in the hospital. She was then incorporated into a program at OHSU, where musicians volunteer to play music in the halls. Honeywell chose to play in the hall where her brother had stayed during his treatment.

"She was slated to play twice, and it was so great she came back a third time," said McCord.

Honeywell said her favorite story from her experience was when a woman receiving treatment came out into the hallway and danced with her husband along to the music.

"After I stopped playing, the woman said, 'Thank you, that was so beautiful,' " Honeywell recalled. The woman then told her that it was the couple's 40th anniversary, and she had recently told her husband that she wanted to dance with him for the occasion.

When other patients were unable to come out into the hallways, they would applaud Honeywell from their rooms.

"It was just a very welcoming space," she said.

Typically, musicians volunteer to play at the Knight Cancer Institute twice a week as a part of a music program at OHSU.

The idea is to bring a little outside entertainment to patients who may be in the hospital for extended periods of time.

"I have noticed that people are just more motivated to get out of their rooms," said McCord. At first, patients were curious about the music in the halls, but McCord said that they eventually came to expect the music every week.

"For those brief periods of time they got to be distracted from their cancer," said McCord.

Honeywell pointed out that cancer is a disease that does not discriminate; it can affect absolutely anyone. She said that music can do the same.

"Maybe just for one hour, to think I may have made a difference, it means the world to me," Honeywell said.

Shannon Houston is a Southern Oregon University intern. Reach her at shouston@mailtribune.com.