OCOEE On a Thursday at Ocoee’s UF Health Cancer Center, popular jazz melodies filled the room. People tapped their feet to the beat, while smiles stretched across their faces.
For a little while, at least, they could escape in the waves of sound and take their mind off of chemotherapy and radiation therapy being pumped into their bodies.
These patients walked in the doors of the cancer center Thursday, Aug. 17, to receive their treatments. But they were completely surprised when a six-piece ensemble from the Orlando Big Band walked into the treatment room and unloaded their instruments.
The partnership between the Orlando Big Band and the local chapter of the American Cancer Society began recently, said ACS Community Development Manager Amy Nichols.
“They actually had one of their band members’ wives recently pass away from brain cancer, so they decided that they wanted to put on a benefit concert for the American Cancer Society,” Nichols said. “So Oct. 21 at the Bob Carr downtown we’re putting on a concert, and all net proceeds will go to the ACS. I was talking with the band, and I said, ‘Hey, let’s kick off this partnership with taking a smaller ensemble into Orlando Health in Ocoee, and let’s play for the patients and surprise them.’ They’re here getting their treatments today, so we just want to brighten their day a little bit.”
The looks on the patients’ faces as the band loaded in, Nichols said, were priceless. And as soon as the band started playing, feet started tapping, heads began to nod, and smiles appeared.
Apopka resident Donna Pollock has been going to the Ocoee center for six weeks now, as part of her treatment for metastatic breast cancer. She undergoes radiation treatments five days a week, as well as chemotherapy infusions.
Her journey began five years ago when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time she lived in Panama City and commuted to what was then the MD Anderson Cancer Center in downtown Orlando. While celebrating five years’ survivorship this past December, she got the news that the cancer had returned.
Pollock received her more intense chemotherapy treatments in downtown Orlando again in January, but six weeks ago decided to stay closer to home with the Ocoee location. When she walked into the room with the band in the corner, it was hard not to smile and feel comforted.
“The journey you go through with cancer, you’re going through so many physical changes, and seeing the people that work here, they think of you as more than just this physical body,” Pollock said. “They try to administer so much to you and your emotional wellbeing. To see that someone takes the time to do that for you. … Getting through cancer is heavy. There’s the physical aspect, but if your mindset is not right, if your head can’t get in the right place, it’s so much more difficult.
“You have to be able to accept it, and it helps to know that, ‘You know what? I’m not doing this by myself, these other people are doing everything they can to sort of take me on each side and walk me through it,’” she said. “It makes you feel like they’re partnering with you and they’re going to do whatever it takes to walk you through it. ... From service dogs to painting to bringing a warm chocolate chip cookie while we’re sitting here, it lifts the spirits.”
Contact Danielle Hendrix at [email protected].