Pianist Min-Jung Kym on the power of music in her battle against cancer

01 May 2024
By Min-Jung Kym
In 2019, Steinway Artist Min-Jung Kym was diagnosed with breast cancer and colon cancer. Below, she opens up on her experiences, the powerful effects of music and music therapy on her journey, and also shares details of an upcoming charity concert in partnership with the Friends of The Royal Marsden, Chelsea on 14 May

Listening to Swan Lake, her arms and hands gracefully come to life. Marta Gonzalez has Alzheimer’s and yet, from the first bars of Tchaikovsky’s ballet, the former prima ballerina regains the memory of her gestures.

Illustrating the power of music, the video went viral. But behind the emotions aroused around the world, came confirmation that the effects of music on the brain are becoming documented and widely recognised. Music is good for the soul and music can be a powerful therapeutic tool.

Former Ballerina Marta Gonzalez, with Alzheimer's, performs 'Swan Lake' Dance

I have always been convinced of the positive effects of music and music therapy to cause positive emotional changes and reduce anxiety. In some ways, we practise music therapy every day. The track that helps us wind down after a tough day, or the song we turn to for a little pick-me-up and to inject some joyful energy.


Double Diagnosis

In 2019, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and colon cancer, I discovered even further how much truth there was in all of this. The power of music and what it can convey helped me through this period of my life. The wonderful thing about music is that you don’t need to be a professional musician to discover the benefits of music; it is within everyone’s reach. It provides a vital anchor in the face of adversity.


"The power of music, and what it can inspire, helped me through this period of my life. I wanted to share my experience because music contains the altruistic dimension of sharing – and perhaps as a result, others may also find it easier to cope with their cancer." -Min-Jung Kym



The power of music on the brain

Music has long been recognized as a powerful therapeutic tool, capable of eliciting profound emotional changes and reducing anxiety.

This is particularly significant in the journey of those facing cancer diagnoses. Music and music therapy have been shown to help develop positive coping skills, offering solace and strength in the most challenging times. It provides a sanctuary for emotions, a space where hope and confidence can be nurtured and restored.

Cancer, with its daunting presence, extends beyond the physical manifestations of tumours and diseased organs. It encompasses a journey that often involves rigorous treatments like chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. While these traditional medical interventions are crucial for healing, they are not the sole components of a patient’s recovery.

The human essence – our emotions, hopes and spirits – plays a vital role in this process.

Historically, music predates language, suggesting that it might be at the very core of our humanity. This universal language has the power to touch the most archaic areas of our brain, areas deeply involved in processing emotions.

The therapeutic impact of music on the brain is an area of growing research, highlighting its significance in enhancing the emotional well-being of cancer patients, which in turn, aids their overall healing process.

The philosophy that the body and mind are interconnected is not new. Ancient thinkers emphasized this unity and though modern science has advanced our understanding of the physical body and led to significant medical breakthroughs, we must remember that healing involves the whole person.

Patients are more than their illness; they are beings of complex emotions, needs and values. The composer Brahms and the surgeon Billroth were early advocates of this philosophy. They shared a profound friendship and exchanged ideas and discussions on music and medicine, thus laying an important basis for the convergence of music and medicine.


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Piano Concert in Aid of the Friends of the Royal Marsden set to take place on 14 May

The Royal Marsden Hospital, London


We will be joined by Dr Emma Kipps and Lewis Butler from the Royal Marsden Trust and we are thrilled to announce that the award-winning journalist and presenter of BBC’s Radio 4 ‘Life Changing’, Dr Sian Williams, will be hosting the evening.

This concert will be, for me, more than a performance; I hope it will be a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the comforting embrace of music in our lives.

Find out more about the event and get your tickets here.

In the light of recent events, including members of the royal family facing their own battles with cancer, it becomes ever more clear that this disease knows no boundaries. It can affect anyone, at any stage of life, making the work of institutions like the Royal Marsden invaluable. Their commitment to research and the comprehensive care they provide not only for patients but also for their families, emphasises the collective strength we share in this fight against cancer.


Steinway's incredible bond with The Royal Marsden

Moreover, this concert has an added layer of meaningfulness due to its special bond with the Boston Steinway piano that was acquired through fundraising efforts by the Friends of The Royal Marsden, Chelsea five years ago for the hospital. This piano symbolises the harmonious relationship between music and healing, resonating with every note, the message of hope and unity.

The Boston Steinway on display at The Royal Marsden Hospital


Friends of The Royal Marsden, Chelsea volunteer pianists dedicate their time to play for patients, visitors and staff, bringing a sense of calm and comfort to the hospital environment. For some, the live piano music may be among their last experiences. A touching instance involved a couple requesting ‘our song’, which a pianist with yellow hair played for them.

Later, a heartfelt note was left at reception, expressing gratitude for the moment of joy shortly before the husband’s passing. This is one of numerous instances where the significantly impacts lives at the Royal Marsden Hospital.

Together, we have the power to positively impact the lives of those battling this illness, providing not only medical treatment but also a therapeutic experience through the gentle embrace of music. I hope many will join us for this concert, to show support and solidarity, to harness the transformative effect of music in paving the way towards recovery and optimism.


Find out about the Friends of The Royal Marsden, Chelsea

You can find out more about the Royal Marsden, including how to donate towards their life-saving research, here.