Monday, April 4, 2011

Cancer Country Music

When you look up "Country Music" you'll mainly find definitions about origin.  One unwritten stereotype, however, is the emotional narrative of the genre, that can at times feel as if the listener is being manipulated to tears.

There surely is a cathartic aspect to listening to songs that make you cry, as evidenced on a recent home visit of mine.  I was seeing a young cancer patient, and the TV was set on CMT, with country videos playing in the background.  What shocked me was that the patient's young wife and friends had me pause to watch part of a video in which the theme of the song was about death.  The wife commented, "We just love these songs, and sit here and cry with them all day" (As if there wasn't reason enough).

Well, there are plenty of country songs to cry about. In fact, there may be enough songs to actually form an unofficial sub-genre called 'Cancer Country' as mentioned by Ron Rosenbaum in a 2007 article published on

So, if you are a country music fan or have friends or patients who are, add these next songs to your repertoire of emotional songs about people with cancer.  The warning label on these should read "may induce tears"

The oldest on my list is Tim Mcgraw's "Live Like You Were Dying" written by Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman in 2004.  The song is associated with Tim Mcgraw's father who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2003, living 9 months after diagnosis.  These lyrics set up the song, "I spent most of the next days, looking at the x-rays, Talking bout' the options and talking bout' sweet times. I asked him when it sank in, that this might really be the real end. How's it hit 'cha when you get that kind of news?"

In 2005 Rascal Flats released the single "Skin" written by Joe Henry and Doug Johnson. Known by fans as "Sara Beth" the song is about a girl with Leukemia going to her prom.  An example of the lyrics, "Sara Beth is scared to death, as she sits holding her mom, 'cause it would be a mistake for someone to take a girl with no hair to the prom"

Craig Morgan released his single "Tough" in 2007. This song is about a breast cancer surviver who teaches her husband a lesson about being 'tough'.  The lyrics say it all, "She wore that wig to church, pink ribbon pinned there on her shirt, no room for fear, full of faith, hands held high singing Amazing Grace. Never once complained, refusing to give up, and I thought I was tough"

Finally, Randy Owen, former vocalist in the band Alabama, released his first solo single in 2008 entitled "Braid My Hair" written by Chris Gray and Brent Wilson. The song is about a bald headed girl going through chemotherapy and dreaming about what she will do once she's well, as the lyrics state, "I'm gonna ride my bike, I'm gonna climb a tree. Gonna fly a kite, score running little league. I'm gonna go to school, make a friend, be able to run again. Take off my mask and just breath in the air. But most of all I'm gonna braid my hair."

Besides being about cancer, each of these songs has another central theme- one we in Palliative Medicine talk about a lot - the theme of 'quality of life' living.  Each central person is dreaming about and attempting to live a full life in the midst of disease.

Anyone know of any other "cancer country" songs that should be included?

6 Responses to “Cancer Country Music”

JeniferCollinsTaylor said...
April 4, 2011 at 12:19 PM

Great post! Music is such a wonderful, healthy way for people to communicate about both the joy and sorrow in life, including times of serious illness and the dying process. I too keep a list of songs, not all country, not all about cancer, but a "playlist" for my focus which is healthy conversations about death and dying to inspire living life fully. There are some other country bands on this list such as Nickelback, The Band Perry, and Alison Krauss.

You can check it out here :::

TomQuinn said...
April 5, 2011 at 4:42 AM

That was a cathartic way to get my day started, Amy! I'm a sucker for for stuff like this, knew I was going to cry at the first line--and that was just the prose! It's no wonder that country music is so popular--its a safe way for people to touch the heart ache.

Christian Sinclair said...
April 7, 2011 at 3:57 AM

I am not a big country music fan, but these songs are good examples of how songwriting and music can impact your feelings. I had heard "Live Like You Were Dying" before, but not the other ones. LLYWD is such a life affirming song in the face of death coming sooner than expected. The times when I have seen this approach embraced by patients and families are some really amazing experiences as a palliative care doctor. Thanks for sharing a few lyrics from the songs too. It helps one know what to expect going into the video (i.e. is this song going to make my cry?)

Christian Sinclair said...
April 7, 2011 at 4:03 AM

Just looked at your playlist Jennifer. Great multi-media use for the topic. I know music therapists use lyrics to help people explore difficult issues in a positive manner all the time. If you are looking to add to your playlist, you can add some more by searching for 'music' and seeing all the other topics posted here at Pallimed: Arts.

Jilly Dybka said...
April 19, 2011 at 8:02 AM

"I Am Strong" by the Grascals & Dolly Parton

Lynn said...
October 4, 2011 at 6:54 AM

"Love you Through It" by Martina McBride is beautiful.