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Music therapy brightens Jurnee’s days during childhood cancer treatment

Music therapy has been a welcome distraction for 10-year-old Jurnee Rust during her stay at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.
Music can play a vital role in the healing process. Just ask 10-year-old Jurnee Rust, who participated in a music therapy program offered at University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital during her cancer treatment. When asked what she wanted people to know about music therapy, Jurnee said: “I get to play whatever I want!”

Clad in a sparkly owl headband and bright purple nail polish, 10-year-old Jurnee Rust improvised on a reverie harp during her fourth day of chemotherapy.

“Oh yeah, I like how that sounds,” Jurnee said, as she struck notes with an oversized plastic pick.

A few months ago, Jurnee was a healthy fourth-grader. But when an MRI revealed a brain tumor pressing on her optic nerves, Jurnee and her mother, Teina, traveled from their home Minot, N.D., to University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital to begin cancer treatment.

During her regular music therapy sessions, Jurnee plays the harp, learns Disney songs on the keyboard, explores percussion instruments and shares stories associated with the different sounds, among other activities.

Facilitated by Lead Music Therapist Lisa Skarbakka, MME, MT-BC, the sessions have been a welcome distraction from the pain and discomfort caused by Jurnee’s chemotherapy, Teina said.

A holistic practice

Music therapy can benefit people of all ages, from infants to adults. Though Jurnee prefers to take the lead during her music therapy appointments, the evidence-based therapy can be conducted in an active or receptive manner, and is adjusted to meet the needs and goals of each individual patient, Skarbakka said.

The experience may include listening to music, music-assisted relaxation, guided imagery, singing, dancing, playing instruments, songwriting, storytelling, sharing memories or self-expression through music, or co-treatment with other rehabilitative and integrative therapies. Families are welcome to participate, observe, or be away from the room during music therapy, Skarbakka said.

Any clinician at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital can refer patients to music therapy for anxiety management, symptom management, developmental stimulation, emotional support, family support, procedural support, or end-of-life care.

Learn more about music therapy and integrative care at Masonic Children’s Hospital.

A year of growth

Thanks to generous philanthropy from the Blythe Brenden-Mann Foundation, the Fairview Foundation Greatest Needs Fund and the grandmother of a former patient, music therapy is expanding its services for our patients this year. The program is now available five days a week in our Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and medical/surgical units. Music therapists will continue to provide for our Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant program with support from the Children’s Cancer Research Fund, as well as our Pediatric Behavioral Health and Mental Health program, Home Health and Hospice program and at Fairview Ridges Hospital.

Find out how you can make a gift to support our music therapy program.

The program is partnering with the music therapy departments at the University of Minnesota and Augsburg College to conduct research, complete community service projects and establish a new pediatric medical music therapy internship.

Masonic Children’s Hospital will soon be adding a new Media Lounge located within the Wilf Family Center. Currently in the design stage, the lounge will be a place for patients, families, staff and visiting artists to play and record high-quality music and video content. The multi-purpose lounge will support a number of services within the hospital, including music therapy.

While music therapy has been an asset for Jurnee and her family during her hospitalization, a lively sense of humor, visits and gifts from family and friends and video chats from her sisters have helped her find strength as she continues her treatments.

When asked what she wanted people to know about music therapy, Jurnee said: “I get to play whatever I want!”