Dylan Leeder, 12, celebrated his final inpatient chemotherapy treatment this month with an enthusiastic jam session. The brave pre-teen, who was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL), has received intermittent cancer treatments at Sutter’s California Pacific Medical Center since 2018. CPMC’s two board-certified music therapists stopped by to help him rock out.
“Dylan chose the song ‘Believer’ by Imagine Dragons,” said Elisha Madsen, founder of the medical center’s music therapy program.
The song’s mighty, chest-pounding chorus goes like this:
“Pain! You made me a, you made me a
Pain! You break me down, you build me up
My life, my love, my drive, it came from…
Pain! You made me a, you made me a
Music therapist Callie Cowart says Leeder is a natural musician.
“We’ve been able to create some really uplifting memories through music-making,” said Cowart.
More than a melody
Cowart recalls a special memory of Leeder from the early days of the pandemic when he was receiving treatment for two weeks.
“This was a scary time for families and staff alike, as we were unsure of what COVID-19 was or how it spread,” Cowart said.
CPMC, to help protect the health of patients and staff, implemented safety protocols, which restricted patients’ and families’ movements throughout the hospital. They were no longer able to wander the halls, go to the Child Life playroom or visit the kindness rock garden.
Cowart says that Leeder, who was used to moving about a little more freely in this space he’d grown comfortable with, was getting cooped up in his room with only the activities he’d brought.
She said that in the midst of this fear and uncertainty the adults were feeling, Dylan jumped on the drums and the familiar thumps of “We Will Rock You” began to travel down the hallways.
“It set off a chain of joy and normalcy that brought comfort to everyone within earshot. Little did he know that his desire to play to cope with his extended hospitalization was what lifted spirits for all of us that day,” smiles Cowart.
The gift of music
Music therapy provides patients with a unique opportunity for self-expression, distraction, comfort and support.
The Leeders understand the power of music on healing. The family donated several instruments, including an acoustic guitar, portable keyboard, electric guitar and amplifier, ukulele, drums and other percussion instruments, to CPMC’s music therapy program in 2018.
Madsen said all she had at this time was an old guitar and a couple of hand-me-down drums.
“Because of the Leeder family, the hospital’s music therapy program was able to grow significantly through a variety of high-quality instruments that we still use today,” said Madsen.
“Having a child life specialist was instrumental in keeping Dylan’s spirits up,” said Sara Leeder, Dylan’s mom. “When our community offered to donate to pediatric oncology causes, we immediately thought of Elisha and CPMC’s music therapy program. We knew it would make an impact in all of pediatrics, not just oncology.”
“We are so proud of Dylan for the courage he has shown throughout his treatment, and we are thankful for the light that he shines on others. Our music therapy sessions inspired Dylan to take drumming lessons for a while, and we hope he continues to make music in his life outside of CPMC,” said Cowart.