Dr. Rick Boulay: Songs and Lessons of Cancer Survivorship at MSH
Allentown, PA — “It’s time now to discuss the middle to the story,” says Rick Boulay MD, Director of Gynecologic Oncology at Lehigh Valley Health Network and member of the Board of Directors with the Allentown Symphony Association. Too much of the cancer narrative focuses on the beginning, diagnosis and treatment, and the end, either accomplishing amazing goals or death.
But what of the middle?
The middle of the cancer journey completely transforms you. It strips away all external distractions and distils you into the person you were intended to be. Priorities are reestablished. Relationships are honed. The status quo is challenged.
“My wife’s leukemia diagnosis rocked our young family,” recalls Boulay. “I thought I knew this disease. Leukemia took my uncle leaving my adoptive cousin once again fatherless. And although this was twenty years ago, I expected the same for my family.”
But times have changed. New drugs and treatment options are extending the landscape of the cancer journey. Now over two thirds of all cancer patients live over 5 years. Most of them are cured. “I’m happy to say, my wife is living well with her leukemia. During her eight years of treatment our family has witnessed: one high school graduation, one college graduation, one medical school enrollment, one high school valedictorian, and numerous musical and theatrical performances,” says Boulay.
Trouble is, he had essentially given these family experiences away. He held little hope of survival. Of an intact family. “You’d think with all the improvements in the cancers I treat, that I would somehow translate those benefits into my wife’s treatment. Her survival. Her longevity. But I couldn’t. I thought I knew this disease. And as my family entered the abyss of cancer diagnosis, help came from an unexpected places.”
His patients. And music.
His patients shared with him their wisdom of the cancer journey. How to talk to the kids. How to ask for and accept help. How to breathe. And he learned. And he grew. “I began to realize that they knew far more than I about managing a cancer diagnosis. I had the degree, but they had the wisdom. I had the books, but they had the practicality. And I wanted what they had. And within a few years, I was transformed.” Boulay adds, “And music. I listen to music so differently.” It used to be for entertainment. Now it’s a narrative…with a melody. That combination of thoughtful lyric and a gorgeous melody speaks in ways that nothing else can.
And a passion to share the wisdom of cancer survivorship was sparked. He has published numerous articles on cancer survivorship in the medical literature including the New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Journal of Clinical Oncology, and many others. Boulay, a classically trained singer, recorded three full length CDs “Hope” ‘Peace” and “Love” each telling the story of various aspects of survivorship. He founded a 501 (c) 3 not for profit corporation, The Catherine Boulay Foundation, in honor of his grandmother dedicated to raising funds for, and sharing the wisdom of cancer survivorship. He founded an online community, Journey through Cancer, geared toward sharing practical solutions to today’s cancer issues. We have also organized many 5K runs to raise awareness and funds for cancer survivorship.
“I’m most proud of some upcoming projects,” Boulay beams. “We are getting very creative in telling the middle of the story. I’ve begun to combine all my skills to share the wisdom of cancer survivorship.”
Next in his concert series, “Make Them Hear You: Songs and Lessons of Cancer Survivorship” at Allentown’s Miller Symphony Hall April 29,30, 2016, Boulay wears many hats. He sings the beautiful music of Andrea Bocelli and Josh Groban. He moderates a town meeting style forum to allow audience members to participate in sharing their own wisdom. And he shares the powerful and emotive stories of those he feels privileged to care for, his patients. “I’m simply returning a favor. They were there for me when I needed the help. I feel humbled and honored to pass along these lessons,” Boulay says.
In an upcoming PBS documentary, “Close to Home”, Boulay again explores the survivorship narrative with a link to music. “I wanted to create a series of short videos that quickly and eloquently described the breadth and depth of the cancer experience. More importantly, these lessons needed to come from those who walked the journey: the survivors, their caregivers, and their doctors,” says Boulay. “And although I knew that music would play an important role, I never intended to co-write and perform the ten original songs integral to the documentary.”
Join Dr Boulay live at Miller Symphony Hall or see his documentary “Close to Home” (see link here below) and begin to experience the transformative power of the middle of the cancer journey.
LinkedIn profile with links to and details of projects and publications:
WLTV “Focus” with discussion of the “Make Them Hear You: Songs and Lessons of Cancer Survivorship” and teaser of “Close to Home”