'Music is a prayer': Minnesota woman finds her voice in hospice

Mandy Blume, right, and her music therapist Haylee Brown perform a song
Mandy Blume, right, who's living with cancer, and her music therapist Haylee Brown perform a song they wrote about saying goodbye as a person faces death inside the Kling Public Media Center in St. Paul, Feb. 26, 2018.
Evan Frost | MPR News

An intractable rule of life is that you will die some day. For most of us, the time and place and manner of death are yet to be decided. But Mandy Blume of Faribault, Minn., has a pretty good idea of what may eventually kill her: cancer.

Blume was first diagnosed with cancer when she was 26. She's 41 now and could be facing her final few months of life. But she's living as creatively as possible and putting her life experiences to song.

"It's important to me. Music is a prayer," Blume said.

Blume entered hospice in June of last year at Allina Health Home Care and Hospice Services of Owatonna, Minn. There, she met music therapist Haylee Brown.

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Blume and Brown started by exploring some Christian rock music, which Blume really likes. One day, she showed the music therapist a big notebook filled with prose and poetry she'd been writing.

"She pulled out this piece called 'Wait for Me,' and I said maybe this is more of a song instead of just a piece," Brown said. "And it all just happened so fast ... kind of like you know it was all meant to be, it was all there."

Brown said she's grateful her words have found a new life off the page.

"What I really love is that the way my poetry or prose is actually going to be shared. It's not going to be just on paper anymore, and I can communicate [to] my family and my friends what I want them to know before I'm gone," Blume said.

Cancer first appeared more than 15 years ago in Blume's thyroid before spreading to lymph nodes. After surgery and chemotherapy, cancer migrated to a breast. A double mastectomy followed along with all manner of complications and infections.

Just when things settled down — after Blume got a job as a nurse practitioner, got married, bought a little house on a lake near Hayward, Wis. — the disease was discovered in her ovaries.

After more treatment and more complications, it came back. That's when Blume decided to enter hospice.

"I was done. I said no more. I want hospice," Blume said.

Music therapy is one of the services offered in hospice. Brown says it can be calming as well as a way to communicate.

"I think that music is such a holistic experience. My patients who are 85 and have Alzheimer's and dementia they starting singing along with me. And when families see that they think 'oh my gosh she doesn't even know her own name ... how does she do that?' and their families just brighten up," Brown said. "It's like they can communicate with their loved one again, but they just have to do it in a different way."

Blume and Brown are working on other songs, too. Creating the music has turned out to be helpful in Mandy's healing ... but it's healing without a cure.

"I'm not going to be physically cured but I'm going to be holistically cured," Blume said. "My spirit, my soul, my psyche are intact and they're going to be intact when I die."