Senior service project uses ukulele music to lift spirits of cancer patients

Feb 16, 2018, 4:01 PM | Updated: 9:15 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – The sweet, simple sounds of ukuleles now ring through the halls of Huntsman Cancer Institute. More than a dozen patients battling cancer picked up their new instruments on Friday and received their first lesson.

“The ukulele is nice because it is so tiny you can bring it anywhere you go, including to your treatment,” said Beth Hardy, a Huntsman Cancer Institute Music Therapist, as she taught the students a couple of simple tunes.

Cancer treatment can be a rough journey for patients. So, creating a little bit of happy music can make a big difference in a difficult day, and it’s hard to find a happier musical instrument than the ukulele.

“I love the ukulele,” said Bonnie Lloyd, who has battled blood cancer for five years.

She likes to make the most of different therapy offerings at HCI, and the new ukulele class caught her attention.

“Your mind has to focus on the music, and it has to focus on where your fingers go, and you don’t think about your cancer,” Lloyd said.

McKayla Benson, a high school senior from Idaho Falls, donated 15 ukuleles to the cancer institute and another 15 to Primary Children’s Hospital. She came up with the idea as a senior service project.

“It relaxes them,” she said. “It’s something that anyone can enjoy.”

McKayla has had friends and family treated in both hospitals.

“All that they’ve done for my friends and family,” she said, “I just wanted to give back in a different way.”

She collected donations from her family’s doctors and dentists, and sold Idaho potatoes to raise $900 to buy the instruments.

“I sold 30 boxes of 50 pounds of potatoes,” she said.

McKayla and her family joined the first class Friday, as the patients learned to play and sing a few songs together.

“It makes me so excited to see the patients’ reactions when they get the ukuleles,” she said.

Carmen Merry has battled breast cancer since August.

“I loved it,” she said. “I think, with a lot of practice, I might even learn a few songs.”

Making music comforts her, she said and soothes her soul.

“Music is a message of love just to get you out of the pain and the suffering that one goes through when they’re battling cancer,” Merry said.

The class lasts six weeks. The students keep the ukuleles, so they can continue working on their skills when the class is done.

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Senior service project uses ukulele music to lift spirits of cancer patients