Jefri Franks has 28 years experience in health care marketing and sales. In 2000, her life changed dramatically when her daughter was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. At that point she became the mom of a child on a “harrowing journey” through cancer. Jefri is not a music therapist, but she has unique perspective of music therapy. In this AMTA-Pro Symposium, Jefri shares ways in which her family found outlets and insights through music therapy on the oncology unit at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri.


Gift of Music Therapy During My Daughter’s Battle with Cancer

Jefri Franks, MS

AMTA-Pro Symposium
September, 2010
Podcast Discussion Outline

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It was a beautiful sunny day in April in the year 2000. Outside, flowers were blooming, people were strolling and laughing, spring was in the air. Inside the MRI consult room at the hospital, I was looking at a film of my daughter’s spinal column. There was something sinister attached to it – a tumor. I was trying to make sense of the words coming out of the doctor’s mouth “…..tumor on your daughter’s spine..”

“Is there any chance it could be benign?” I asked.

“No.” He said.

Thus began our harrowing journey through cancer ending with my 11 year old daughter’s death on March 31, 2001.

I tell you this because I want to share with you the gift of music therapy throughout my daughter’s illness. We were fortunate enough to have daily access to Allison, music therapist for the oncology unit at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri.

One of the wonderful things about a music therapist is their non-threatening presence. When Allison peeked through the window of our hospital room door with guitar in hand, we heaved a sigh of relief and waved her in. “Oh good,” I would say, “It’s Allison!” As she came through the door strumming the first notes of a song, Heather and I would relax in unison. We didn’t have to gear up for bad news or evaluate pros and cons before making a tough decision. We could simply relax to the music. We quickly discovered music has the power to transport the listener. Often Heather and I would close our eyes while Allison sang and strummed, and we would leave the confines of that hospital room in our minds – Heather to a field of flowers, and me to a float in a pool of still water.

Going through a critical illness is like riding an out-of-control roller coaster in the dark with occasional spotlights on medical professionals who shared information about the latest medical tests or asked us to make decisions that had no hopeful options. Music therapy was the antithesis of all this. For example, we worked together as a family to develop a music video starring Heather. The process was fun and exciting, giving the whole family a chance to build something very significant and creative. The video project was a wonderful and welcome escape from the watching and waiting mode. And it gave Heather an opportunity to escape her illness, to be something other than a cancer patient. The video became even more precious after Heather’s death.

Our experience with our music therapist during that journey through cancer helped me understand the value of music therapy, as it gave us welcome outlets and profound insights during our bumpy journey. As you listen to the AMTA-Pro Symposium podcast, take note of some ideas and suggestions Jefri shares, ways in which music therapists can impact the lives of critically ill individuals and their families.

About the Speaker

Jefri Franks lost her only child, Heather, to cancer in 2001. Beginning in 2003, Jefri began receiving requests to speak to health care and consumer groups about the experience. Her speaking engagements focus on two topics: (1) What Do Critically Ill Patients and Their Families Need? and (2) The Power of Presence and The Gift of Grief: Building Resilience and Hope.

Jefri is the author of the forthcoming book, Heather’s Journey; A Mother’s Accidental Guide Through Loss To Hope.

Jefri spent 28 years in health care marketing and sales and received her Masters degree in Counseling from the University of Kansas in 1985.  In the years since Heather’s death Jefri has been President of the Children’s Mercy Cancer Center Board, a member of the Children’s Mercy Pediatric Advanced Comfort Care Team, a member of the Children’s Mercy End of Life Panel, an end of life volunteer for the Parent to Parent Program at Children’s Mercy and a parent advisor for the Initiative For Pediatric Palliative Care in Newton, Massachusetts. Jefri is a keynote speaker, consultant, and coach in the areas of grief and end of life issues. Jefri is in the process of becoming a Professional Certified Coach, focusing in the areas of bereavement and end of life issues.

Visit Jefri’s website at www.jefrifranks.com