UK HealthCare

Music therapy helps two-time cancer survivor through bone marrow transplant

Bobbi Jo's care team helped her stay positive through the hardest times. Jennifer Peyton (right) provided music therapy and Kymber Tackett (middle) provided massage therapy. Photo provided by Bobbi Jo Allen.
After 15 days, Bobbi Jo received news that she was well enough to be discharged after her bone marrow transplant. Photo provided by Bobbi Jo Allen.
Bobbi Jo is now 148 days post-bone marrow transplant and in remission. She has been able to get back to her regular activities like supporting her granddaughters at dance recitals. Photo provided by Bobbi Jo Allen.
While she was at the hospital, Bobbi Jo’s immune system was so fragile no visitors were allowed to stay with her. Here she is giving two thumbs up to show everyone she is okay. Photo provided by Bobbi Jo Allen.
On May 5, 2024, Bobbi Jo celebrated 100 days post-bone marrow transplant. Photo provided by Bobbi Jo Allen.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 21, 2024) – In 2018, Bobbi Jo Allen was exercising when she found a lump in her pectoral muscle. Three days later, she received a phone call from her doctor. For the first time, Bobbi Jo had to digest these words: stage 4 cancer.

Bobbi Jo was diagnosed with stage 4 large B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This type of cancer typically presents as a rapidly growing mass. Although it’s aggressive, it normally responds well to chemotherapy. After being diagnosed, Bobbi Jo quickly started treatment at the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center. To attack this fast-growing cancer, she was given doxorubicin, a potent and widely used chemotherapy drug that’s earned an interesting nickname for its red color and strong side effects.

“I thank God I found this lump, because at that point, it was all riddled through my body,” said Bobbi Jo. “The treatment was one of the strongest and most toxic chemotherapies on the market, ‘red devil chemotherapy.’”

For eight months, she was treated with doxorubicin. After several months of intense treatment, Bobbi Jo reached remission.  

But five years later, she was doing yoga and deep stretching when she felt something on her neck. It was an abnormal lump, and she knew she needed to speak with her doctor as soon as possible. While she was going through different tests and providing blood work, Bobbi Jo also noticed a pea-sized bump right below her belly button.

She talked with multiple doctors and looked at all the different test results. It was July 2023, almost exactly five years of remission, when Bobbi Jo’s doctors told her that she did indeed have a cancer reoccurrence. She faced the truth that she was once again diagnosed with stage 4 large B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and would need to have a bone marrow transplant.

“I kept questioning the diagnosis at first,” said Bobbi Jo. “They said the only treatment they could offer me was a bone marrow transplant. I thought I could handle chemotherapy again, but a bone marrow transplant…”

She spent the remainder of the summer and fall going through chemotherapy and preparing her body for the transplant. Bobbi Jo lives an overall healthy and active life, but she wanted to be as strong and healthy as possible before beginning the transplant.

She exercised as much as possible and even worked with a nutritionist to make sure she was gaining the right amount of weight and muscle ahead of the procedure.

Bobbi Jo was able to spend the holidays with her family. Then on Jan. 24, 2024, she received a bone marrow transplant.

With her immune system being so fragile, no visitors were allowed to stay with her.

“My immune system was totally wiped out. I had nothing to protect myself,” said Bobbi Jo. “Being isolated was a fear of mine.”

Bobbi Jo talked with her care team and decided she wanted to get involved with additional services that could be provided through UK HealthCare’s Integrative Medicine and Health program. Music had been a big part of her life since she was little, encouraged by her parents. When she was younger, she says she would constantly be singing. Music therapy was something she was looking forward to while she was in the hospital this time around.

“Music therapy was definitely one I wanted to set up with,” said Bobbi Jo. “Music inspires me; it gives me great joy.

Jennifer Peyton is a board-certified music therapist with the UK Integrative Medicine and Health program and provides services to patients at the Markey Cancer Center.

“When Jen came into my room and I saw her walk over with her guitar on her back, I didn't even know who she was, but I was just so grateful that she was walking in my room to play the guitar for me,” said Bobbi Jo.

“Bobbi Jo approached cancer treatment with a wonderful combination of determination, faith, gratitude, humor, humility… and style,” said Jennifer. “Her enthusiasm about everything, not just music therapy, was so refreshing and permeating.”

They had an instant bond connecting through music and Bobbi Jo found a way to release whatever she was feeling that day.

“We got to know each other,” said Bobbi Jo. “The first day, she sang some Beatles songs and it just brought me back. The music helped reduce some stress I was going through at the moment and helped calm me down.”

Bobbi Jo was facing anxiety and stress over how she felt physically, the isolation that she was going through and fear of the unknown. Spending time with Jennifer, listening to the music and singing along was a release.

“It created this connection with her that made me realize, after all the treatments that I went through, after all the times that she came to visit me, I really recognized that music therapy was definitely part of my healing team,” said Bobbi Jo. “It takes a village when you're going through a bone marrow transplant.”

During their sessions, Jennifer always had her guitar. Each day she would check in with Bobbi Jo to see how she was feeling both physically and mentally. Some days, all Bobbi Jo needed was to listen to Jennifer play guitar, other days she would sing along.  She even had the opportunity to write a song with Jennifer to express her feelings.

“I've never written a song in my life,” said Bobbi Jo. “But Jen told me we could rewrite a song. So as we were creating, I reflected on the sacrifice my daughter made to help me through my journey. That's when we decided to rewrite the Natalie Merchant song ‘Kind & Generous.’”  

Songwriting is one of Jennifer’s favorite music therapy interventions to help patients cope with their experiences.

“Songwriting can be fun, humorous and enjoyable to do, but it can also be serious, tearful and cathartic,” said Jennifer. “While most of the therapeutic outcomes are met in the songwriting process, the final product is something patients can keep forever as a reminder of what they went through, and that’s really special.”

On Bobbi Jo’s final day in the hospital, they recorded the song together. Jennifer was able to share the file so that Bobbi Jo’s daughter could hear the song.

“It just made me cry,” said Bobbi Jo. “It became a full circle for me. Music takes you down memory lane. It takes you down good times and maybe not-so-good times, but it helps you cope. And that's what Jen did, she was an amazing healer in my journey.”

Jennifer is grateful to be part of her patient’s healing process through a variety of music therapy interventions.

“It’s really astounding to see just how many aspects of an individual’s cancer journey can be positively impacted by music therapy,” said Jennifer. “I feel very fortunate to work in a hospital that values integrative medicine approaches like creative arts therapies.”

Doctors had estimated that Bobbi Jo would need to stay in the hospital for three weeks. But after 15 days, she received news that she was well enough to be discharged.

“I was determined to get out of there,” said Bobbi Jo. “Now I’m setting new goals, and I'm attaining those goals. I'm just living life every day to the fullest.”

Today, Bobbi Jo is 148 days post-bone marrow transplant. She recently had her final PET scan and with the results, she is now in remission – again.

“Best news ever,” said Bobbi Jo. “I have no disease in my body, no signs of anything in my body. I’m in complete 100% remission and it feels great. I’m now a two-time survivor. So with that, my mantra is to keep making plans.”

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