“The LIft”

“In our response lies our growth and our freedom. Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
– Victor Frankl, Austrian Neurologist/Psychiatrist,
Holocaust Survivor, and Author of Man’s Search for Meaning

So many good conversations start with a great question. That’s how it was in my final (boohoo!) discussion with music therapist extraordinaire Tori Obermeier. Music therapy has meant a lot to me since being diagnosed with ovarian cancer this past February. The healing power of music is universal, whether you’ve had the blessing of music therapy or not. After our first conversation, the pandemic necessitated Tori and I work via Zoom video. It didn’t matter. Empathy transcends technology.

The question, “What does freedom mean to you?” was poignant in many ways. First, it brought our work full circle. The song I chose in March to represent my future self was George Michael’s Freedom. Second, Tori asked this question after I had completed 6 rounds of chemotherapy, the first line of defense against ovarian cancer. Visualizing freedom also felt like a good thing to do, because it turns out that I need a couple more infusions. Some cancers are wily. Although I’ve made peace with chemo, it’s not fun. Sustained remission requires a full court press, including discovering new ways to cure cancer from the inside-out by empathizing with our bodies. Don’t worry. We’re on it.

But…FREEDOM. I yearn for it in many ways.

Freedom from:

  • Chemotherapy and ALL pharmaceutical interventions and…
  • Tests and scans and contrast dies and….
  • All the side effects and &^%*&^% tradeoffs associated with all of that $#@#
  • Disease intervention vs prevention. No offense to all the caring docs out there, but we’ve been seeing way too much of each other lately.
  • All food sensitivities. On this front, thanks to extraordinary integrative nutritional advice, I’ve made surprising progress while in chemotherapy (!).
  • Running with a mask while in chemo during a pandemic and managing my cortisol seeing that most other people don’t give a $&@#.
  • The vast array of supplements and herculean effort it takes to feel okay during the assault of chemotherapy and western interventions for cancer

Freedom to:

  • Enjoy as many healthy foods as a healthy body can and should. I’m a cook and a foodie. This is not just a small part of who I am. It’s not just nice. It’s essential to my joie de vivre. If you’ve ever eaten my cooking, you know. Also, please bring on the occasional mold-free, organic wine! Is anyone else going through this pandemic stone-cold sober? I didn’t think so. #Jealous
  • Do all the healing things that feel good and right and productive for a human body. I’ve leaned into all of this already, and it feels so good. It’s also working to heal my body and keep me feeling like myself throughout chemo.
  • Travel! We love exploring new places, culture and food. More of that in the future please. #EmpathyIsAContactSport. Travel is nourishing in so many ways to the human spirit.
  • Use the “ovarian cancer card” to say no, avoid emotional toxicity, take care of myself and my family. Hey, I’ve earned it.
  • Dance!!! Alone, with John (and Grant and Sophie), at weddings, and in competitions even. That may sound like a joke, but I’m serious! The last thing I had to quit before we took on this cancer project was dancing in Groundworks annual dance competition, “It Takes Two.” I was slated to dance with Executive Director David Shimotakahara, who makes clear that dancing is empathy in motion. What’s not to love? I may have been otherwise occupied this year, but I plan to dance triumphantly in the future and bring as much attention to this wonderful organization as I can.

Those are the things on my freedom shortlist. What’s would be on yours?

Here comes the audience participation part of this post and your chance to taste music therapy!

We’re still in the midst of a pandemic. Your constraints may not be cancer-related, but you are human. So, you probably have things that keep you from feeling “free.” It may be individual, e.g., a job you don’t love, an emotionally toxic relationship, an addiction you have to keep at bay (all those pandemic baking posts sure do look yummy). It may be societal. Systems of oppression are everywhere, even in a “free” country. It might be situational, e.g., maybe you married into the Royal Family, and it wasn’t the dream you imagined? Get some paper and a pen. Really. Do it. This won’t take long.

Ready? Here we go:

Step 1) Write down YOUR answer to the question, “What does freedom mean to you?” Don’t overthink it. Just put what comes to mind in 5-10 minutes.

Step 2) Pick a favorite song that helps you feel free (one of these might work, or “Me and Bobby McGee,” or “Freedom Highway,” or maybe “Roll Me Away”…whether you’re a biker or not…or, how about this memory?! “Free to Be You and Me”). What other songs make you feel free? I’d love to know and add them to my Freedom Playlist. Now, close the door, and DANCE like nobody’s watching because it’s true! Nobody is watching. If dancing is not your thing, just close your eyes and listen. Sway or sit still. Absorb your freedom music however you wish. You are free to make that choice and so many others. Take your time. Listen to the whole song. We’ll wait.

Well, how did that feel? Can you imagine a future that is more free? I did. It helped me empathize with my future self, toggling toward the hopeful side of grief and loss that’s inevitable at times with cancer. It helped me visualize and choose life over fear again, even when so much is out of our control. It also helped me realize the freedoms I have NOW. The irrepressibility of the human spirit is alive in every circumstance. It’s stunning, really. As Victor Frankl and others have said, we are free to choose how we respond. No one can take that away from us. Ever.

The truth is, I have so many unexpected freedoms even now, fighting ovarian cancer, in the midst of chemotherapy, during a pandemic.

I am free to:

  • Run, do yoga, lift weights
  • Cook, taste, and digest healthy, delicious food
  • Create…a meal, a post, an imperfectly perfect piece of expressive art
  • Type, without neuropathy
  • Think! #NoChemoBrain
  • Vote
  • Help move our daughter into college #GoBigRed
  • Do inside-out cancer research and make choices that help me survive and thrive
  • Even….dance. Even now. It may be a little while before I get to dance in a wedding, compete, and do the lift again, but I will.
  • Evolve my soul, especially as my body ages and earthly attachments fade away #StillMissingMyHairThough. The grace of such vulnerability is the clarity it brings.
  • Choose love over fear

“Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”
-Janis Joplin, “Me and Bobby McGee”

As a parting gift, Tori wrote a song about our time together, my cancer journey so far, and kicking up to the surface. Yes, I cried. That’s the therapy part. Here it is (with printed lyrics below):

I hope you enjoyed this little taste of music therapy and will find ways to continue letting music heal you…helping you find your own freedom, over and over again. I know I will.


Thanks to John LeMay for edits to this post, being the best cancer research partner ever, and always being willing to dance with me.

Heartfelt thanks to music therapist Tori Obermeier of Insights Consulting in Indiana, formerly with UH/Seidman Cancer Center. Tori left me in the caring hands of UH art therapist Barbara DiScenna, who encourages all the colors in the crayon box #IFeelLikeKidAgain and notices “expressiveness” rather than the lack of training. What a gift! Thanks also to Dr. Francoise Adan, Director of Integrative Health, University Hospitals of Cleveland, for these amazing programs that help so many patients, including me.

Thanks to Barbara Acho/mom for the reminder about “Me and Bobby McGee,” as well as inspiring a love of music, especially Motown. Thanks to Pete Acho/Dad, Uncle Jack Kittinger, and Uncle Andy Acho for all the dances before I met John. Believe it or not, custom-made music for weddings/birthdays/retirements is the norm in my family thanks to Steve Acho. #AlsoMusicTherapy

For more on how to cultivate and steward empathy, individually, organizationally, and nationally, check out Jackie’s book: Currency of Empathy – The Secret to Thriving in Business & Life.


Waves, For Jackie
By Tori Obermeier

It’s not simple to say and it’s not what I asked for
These waves so strong, wiping me to the shore
The drugs and the tears and the scars and this bare head
Choosing not to transmit but transform instead

So I’ll kick up to the surface, get back up on that surfboard
Ride those waves again and again and again
There’s so much out there for me, and this world can be scary,
But I choose life over fear again and again and again

In this life there’s waves that will knock you down without ever knowing why
I’ve learned to sit comfortably in the mystery of this life
So when they ask how I am, I’ll say,
I am well in all the ways that really matter, hey

And I’ll kick up to the surface, get back up on that surfboard
Ride those waves again and again and again
There’s so much out there for me, and this world can be scary,
But I choose life over fear again and again and again

Thank you for helping me to stop and listen;
Thank you for teaching me how to let go;
Thank you for reminding me of what’s important;
Thank you…And now you can go

Watch me kick up to the surface, get back up on that surfboard
Ride those waves again and again and again
There’s so much out there for me, and this world can be scary,
But I choose life over fear again and again and again


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An Antidote to Our Empathy Deficit Disorder


An Antidote to Our Empathy Deficit Disorder

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