KISS eases the pain for Canberra brain tumor patient Jack Woodhams
By Megan Gorrey / Reporter at The Canberra Time
The hard rock tunes of Kiss have soothed Jack Woodhams' soul even as a brain tumour and radiotherapy strained his body.
In the past seven weeks his parents Paul and Karyn Woodhams watched their son go from a healthy, happy boy to a very sick child in a Sydney hospital ward.
But through the healing power of music therapy, they watched as glimpses of their cheeky, rock music-loving son returned.
Jack, 6, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour in May. One Friday he had dizzy spells at school and didn't seem quite right. By Tuesday he was vomiting.
He was rushed to hospital in Canberra, then Sydney, where scans revealed the mass had taken root on his brain stem and he needed daily radiation therapy to shrink it.
"Pretty much that whole first week he just laid in bed, he didn't want to do anything and you'd get yes or no answers," Mrs Woodhams said. "We hadn't seen him smile in a week, or even move around."
That was where music therapist Matt Ralph came in as he dragged a trolley piled high with xylophones, keyboards, bongo drums and ukeleles through the halls of the Sydney Children's Hospital in Randwick.
He's one of two music therapists, funded by RedKite, the Australian Children's Music Foundation and Sydney Children's Hospital Foundation, who have leveraged music and sound to distract and entertain youngsters facing long stints in hospital.
The pair have played instruments, written and composed songs, created music videos, sung and performed with children and their families to build resilience and generate positive memories, particularly for children in palliative care.
Its calming effects are also increasingly used to ease anxiety for children before painful or daunting medical procedures, often reducing the amount of medication they take beforehand.
Jack was reluctant at first but his parents said the transformation was instant.
"Once he got given an instrument he changed, he came to life," Mrs Woodhams said. "You knew that our kid was still in there."
Mr Woodhams, a Canberra Times online producer, said his son's face would light up every time "Music Matt" was around.
"His movement wasn't the best for the first few weeks but he'd get the drums and his arms would be going, he'd be smiling and singing," he said.
A highlight was a film clip for Jack's favourite Kiss song, Rock and Roll all Nite, which starred Jack and his family and was organised through the hospital's music video program.
Mr Ralph said music offered a "courageous coping mechanism" that allowed children battling illness to make choices, decisions and demands about their environment and restored a vital sense of control and empowerment.
"I see them become more active, they're more physically engaged and more alert. They're more present and it increases their confidence," he said.
"They become relaxed and a bit more assertive, they become less fearful and less focused on anxiety."
Jack returned to Canberra last week and will go back to hospital for a scan and check-up in two months. In the meantime, the Kiss songs and music video have been on repeat at his family's Gungahlin home.
"Music's always been a good way of bonding for me and the kids growing up and to see the music still working in his recovery is pretty amazing," Mr Woodhams said.