Jamie Herbster’s musical therapy 

Cancer diagnosis brings new awareness of music’s healing power

click to enlarge Jamie Herbster
  • Jamie Herbster

I REALLY don't feel like getting out of bed or staring at this infernal screen some days. And those days, I harness the power of three very simple, and some might say, sappy songs.

And I’m going to send all my cool cred down the toilet here, as if I had any cool cred to begin with. But when I sing these songs, I can get on with my day: “The Best Time of Your Life,” from Disney’s “Carousel of Progress;” “Look for the Silver Lining,” a jazz standard; and “Spirit of Life,” a Unitarian-Universalist hymn.

Positive, uplifting, sweeter than the iced tea around here. And really, what’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to me? Losing my mom? Losing my job? So far, no doctor’s ever uttered the word “cancer” to my face.

Not like Jamie Herbster. She’s really used the healing power of music to get on with difficult days. She experienced it herself after she felt a lump in her left breast, went in for some tests, and came out the other side a healthy but changed woman.

“I’ve seen what music can do,” says this harmonizing survivor, a motivational speaker and an inspiration to many with her guitar, words and music. “It reaches the soul where a lot of things cannot.”

Herbster’s always had a musical side, she says. She started playing the guitar when she was 10 or so. She grew up in Windsor Forest in the age of Carole King and James Taylor.

She got her life-altering diagnosis in 2011.

“How could that be?” she thought. “With my situation, being in fairly good shape, eating right and doing all these things, I thought, ‘Surely, they’ve made a mistake.’”

But it wasn’t a mistake, as four exhausting rounds of chemotherapy and 33 radiation treatments would follow. In her downtime, she wrote songs to keep herself encouraged.

“I just knew that I was going to be okay,” Herbster says. “And I knew that something good was going to come out of it because I had it.”

What came out of her ordeal, again, you might put in that category of sugary, get-out-of-bed motivation that I described above: songs about living your life right now, songs about a better tomorrow and songs to lift the spirit.

It’s not cynical or jaded. It rhymes simply, Mac Davis “I Believe in Music” simply. She sings these songs at cancer centers, churches or wherever the need calls her.

“Faith, family and friends are critical,” she says of her treatment, which never really ends, but at least she recently finished a five-year regimen of Tamoxifen. “You can’t live your life in fear. You have survived. You have made it. And you just have to say, ‘Well, this is part of life. Don’t get stressed out over it.’”

She didn’t get stressed out when treatments weakened her to the point where she needed to ask for help – rides to the doctor, that sort of thing. A vocational rehabilitation specialist with the state, she was more used to helping others than seeking help herself.

“That was a really hard thing for me to do,” she says. “Now, I tell other people, if they’re going through things, even the clients that I work with, it’s okay to ask for help.”

It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to celebrate. It’s okay in October to don that pink and be aware of the cancer-stricken lives around us and raise funds to save them.  And maybe in doing so, you’ll sing a song. And, cool or not, it just might be what gets you through the day. 


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Orlando Montoya

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