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Image: the musical group “Serotones”

from left, Tiffany Cheng, Mandy Leung, Warren Yau, and Josh Valdez.

Serenading Cancer Patients Back to Health

Each spring, the UC San Diego School of Medicine and Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences co-host a memorial service to honor and thank the people who donate their bodies for study in anatomy class. Last year, the event featured several first-year pharmacy students playing music, including Warren Yau on violin, Tiffany Cheng on cello and Josh Valdez on guitar.

The three students later decided to join forces, and the musical group “Serotones” was born in the fall of 2015.

At first, the group just played for fun. Then Yau, who volunteers at the retail pharmacy at the Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health, got the idea that the Serotones could also play music for patients.

“When I shadow pharmacists at the Moores Cancer Center, I see the pain and anxiety that many patients feel,” said Yau, who hopes to pursue a career in oncology pharmacy after graduation. “I thought perhaps music could help bring them some comfort, and a welcome distraction.”

Now in their second year of pharmacy school, the Serotones play music—everything from classical to the Beatles—for patients twice a month at the Moores Cancer Center.

“We have a lot of fun searching YouTube for songs we think the patients will enjoy, and then learning how to play them,” Cheng said.

For Cheng, the Serotones provide a creative outlet—she looks forward to practicing, as a break from her studies. “We all share a passion for music and helping patients,” she said. “It’s rewarding to see the relief patients get from hearing our music.”

One patient in particular stands out for Cheng and Yau. They recall the day a 4-year-old girl came across the Serotones group on her way out of the Moores Cancer Center, after a full day of cancer treatments. The group was still unpacking their instruments, but the girl sat and waited with her mother—she was mesmerized and didn’t want to leave. The girl’s mother later said that it meant a lot to them to have live musicians there—the little girl loves music, and it made her day.

“Having the Serotones play at Moores Cancer Center promotes relaxation and healing,” said Layah Blacksberg, a volunteer coordinator for oncology services at UC San Diego Health. “During performances, I am overjoyed to see patients holding hands with their loved ones, hugging each other and swaying to the music. Many of the patients are smiling; some have their eyes closed in deep thought and reflection; and others simply enjoying the show. Music allows patients to connect to a part of themselves and those around them in a unique way.”

The Serotones are already growing beyond their inaugural members. The musical group is now an official Skaggs School of Pharmacy student organization. Several additional students have now joined—including Mandy Leung on piano—and the group is looking to expand their musical services to other San Diego hospitals.

Want to hear the Serotones and support Patient Support Services at the Moores Cancer Center? They are holding a free benefit concert March 29, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Price Center East Ballroom (donations welcome). To learn more, you can reach The Serotones at serotones@ucsd.edu.