Girl battling cancer gets relief from music therapy program

MINEOLA, Long Island (WABC) -- Grateful parents from Queens are hoping to help expand a pediatric cancer center's music therapy program, saying it has provided invaluable relief to their daughter.

From the minute Stella Freedman was born, she loved music. What her parents didn't know is that music would get her -- and them -- through one of the toughest times of their lives.

When she was just three months old, Stella was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer. She immediately began receiving chemotherapy at NYU Winthrop Cancer Center for Kids in Mineola.

"I wouldn't have even known to start using music to help her," mom Becky Freedman said.

Freedman said that on one occasion, Stella was crying hysterically, and the only person who could calm her was the center's music therapist. The therapist sang to Stella until she was calm, and from then on out, music became a critical part of Stella's treatment. Thankfully, the cancer center already had an established music therapy program.

Stella's doctor, Dr. Mark Weinblatt, said listening to and playing music has shown to not only help distract kids from painful procedures, but also to make it an overall more pleasant experience.

"There's nothing like music to help relieve a lot of tension and make the visits here often seem like fun," Dr. Weinblatt said.

Dr. Weinblatt said he also has found they don't have to use as much anesthesia on children when a musician is playing in the room, because the children are more relaxed and comfortable.

Music therapist Christine Vaskas said she often uses music and musical instruments to help kids release emotional tension.

"If they're feeling anxious, maybe they don't have the words to express themselves," she said. "They can actively release by playing a drum."

Becky and husband Scott Freedman, of Long Island City, are now on a mission to raise $40,000 for the cancer center's music therapy program. The money would be used to purchase more instruments, upgrade a music therapy room and hire more staff.

"Even though this was a very difficult experience, we are trying to reward excellence here and just make sure that it continues," Scott Freedman said.

To donate visit and designate your donation to "Music Therapy." Donations can also be made by calling 516-663-1565.
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