An NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center
By Zen Vuong | December 20, 2018
Seven City of Hope patients will welcome the New Year atop City of Hope’s 47th Rose Parade float, “Harmony of Hope.” Meet float rider Olivia Gaines, an aspiring songwriter and amateur pianist who has witnessed how music speaks to the heart and calms spirits.
Olivia Gaines took a leave of absence from college when she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, but she did not take a leave of absence from life.
Gaines left Kalamazoo College in Michigan to find the treatment required to save her life. She found it at City of Hope, a world-renowned independent cancer research and treatment center in Duarte, California.
“I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t open a book,” said Gaines, now 23. “I was shocked! One day, I was a college student in my dorm room; the next day, I was in a hospital room, and they told me I had cancer. I knew my life would never be the same.”
Gaines, an Eagle Rock, California, resident, received an allogeneic hematopoietic stem-cell transplantation, which uses a donor’s bone marrow or “peripheral blood progenitor cells” to reestablish function in patients whose bone marrow or immune system is defective. The treatment put her in remission, but Gaines continues to be treated at City of Hope for graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), a long-term side effect that occurs in about half of allogeneic stem-cell transplant patients. Chronic GVHD can take two to three years to disappear. In most cases, patients recover after five years.
“I didn’t expect to learn about life and beauty, math and law, grief and music, and the science of miracles through my experience with this disease,” Gaines said. “Although not ideal, leukemia gave me the opportunity to learn and meet so many amazing people who have all taught and gifted me so much.”

Music is more useful than flowers for hospital patients

Gaines is an aspiring songwriter and amateur pianist who has taught children, including those with autism, how to play the piano. She believes music — especially Disney music — has the ability to eject fear and anxiety from pediatric patients. For this reason, she recommends that people subscribe to a streaming service or create a playlist for hospital patients rather than buy them flowers.
She remembered a night when she and her mobile phone came to the rescue of a crying child in the pediatric ward.
I walked to his room, played ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’ and started dancing with him,” she recalled. “He immediately stopped crying and smiled. This is just one of the many examples of how I witnessed music as medicine for the soul.”
Gaines now works part time at a strength-training facility in Eagle Rock. She trains specialized populations, including cancer patients, how to move smart and stay strong.
She continues to quench her thirst for knowledge by asking physicians, nurses, cancer patients and everyone she encounters a host of questions. She also goes to the library at City of Hope to read scientific papers on her disease.
You could say my teachers are nontraditional,” Gaines said. “The most amazing people come here to City of Hope. This is the place where I received life-saving treatments. This is the place leading the way. This is the place responsible for giving my life another shot. I’m alive. I’m grateful. Let’s dance!”
Learn more about acute myeloid leukemia. If you are looking for a second opinion about your diagnosis or consultation about your treatment, request an appointment online or contact us at 800-826-4673. Please visit Making Your First Appointment for more information.

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