Playing with synthetic muscles after cancer

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by SeanP, Feb 13, 2008.

  1. SeanP

    SeanP Pianissimo User

    Jun 14, 2007
    Hi there,

    Sorry for the intrusion but I didn't know anywhere else to post this...?

    I have started playing again after having cancer (about a 2 year break from playing) - well still going through the mill after a number of operations and chemo but that's something else...

    Anyway, the last operation removed more of my stomach muscles (in total about 60% and in the middle) and the central third of my diaphragm (they too where cancerous). They replaced the muscle with a synthetic mesh to which the remaining real muscle is sewn. As you can imagine, this is proving a little inconvenient when playing - I cannot feel anything when trying to support - well it doesn't really do anything actually... although I can feel the real muscle at the sides. I have already ripped some internal stitches holding it all together (I did feel that!). Everything's going OK and things are progressing nicely since I started playing again 6-8 weeks ago. However, stamina is proving to be a problem - I know, it's early days but other than the usual stuff, does anyone here have any advice on what to do or has anyone gone through this before and offer some tips. At the moment I am doing ppp warm-ups, long notes, lip flexibilities and using the Stamp and Arban books. Strangely (to me at least) range is not too badly affected - I still have a G above high C (like it matters). I'm happy to continue this as I have all the time I could wish for practice considering I'm not at work. I did train as a trumpet player at the RNCM - don't know whether I'll get back to the standard I was, but I sure am going to try! A conductor heard I was playing again and asked me to do a Brahms Req, to which of course I said "Yeah, sure..." So I need to do something about it!!

    I hope you can help - certainly not going to let the cancer stop me playing!


    MJ and Schwab like this.
  2. RG111

    RG111 Piano User

    Nov 12, 2003
    You are an inspiration!
    After a medical lay off I used the following to get back
    1- Hood mouthpiece routines
    2- Stamp
    3. Bai Lin and Irons
    4. Clarke technical studies
    5. Melodic work
    All the best,
    Roy Griffin
  3. Forte User

    Jan 27, 2008
    Brisbane, Australia
    Wow, Sean! You are an inspiration.

    That aside, I would talk to a physical therapist or sports physiologist. Also, I know that after having abdominal surgery, a lot of people have to wear compression garments. Do you think that a compression girdle could give you a little extra support?

    Are you able to buzz on the mouthpiece without discomfort? I wonder if it's possible for you to train your back muscles to help out.

    At any rate, you are an inspiration. None of us have any excuse not to practice if YOU don't. :)
  4. Vulgano Brother

    Vulgano Brother Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 23, 2006
    Parts Unknown
    Sean, you are on my list of inspiring people too! Our bodies are marvelously made and quite adaptable. Regarding support, I view it not as something we "do," or even feel, but a side-effect of good trumpet playing. Let your body find its way of producing the sound in your head, provided (and this is a biggie) that it is safe to do so. Consult with your doctor--a lay off might be in order if a more secure bond between the real muscle and the mesh is possible.

    Keep us posted!
  5. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    relaxed air is the key, not forced air. That is why your range is not affected! Most of what I can suggest does not have anything direct to do with trumpet playing.

    The operations and therapy have changed your "balance". If you can go swimming (or similar sport that can be enjoyed in a relaxed non-competitive fashion), that is one very good way to get rhythm and power back in your breathing cycle. That is vital for a continued, relaxed approach to the trumpet!

    As far as playing goes, I think it is VERY important to invest time in tunes. While etudes and intense exercizes are good for uniting the various body functions to promote great playing, they are also a greater strain and could slow down healing. Playing "tunes" whether that be a fake book, Concones vocalises or Amsdens duets, give you food for the soul, a very powerful medication!

    I would just suggest changing the ratio of chop and body builders to tunes. Great joy can be found in the simple things too!

    If you can financially swing it and don't have one, a flugelhorn is a great horn to play soothingly, sensuously, sensitively. It sounds best in the middle and low register, so one plays there more. It is a new palette of colors available to your playing.

    Last of all, I recommend teaching, even if it is only one or two students. That keeps you also focussed on the basics and appreciative of small steps.

    You have a lot to be very proud of: musically and mentally. My prayers are with you!
  6. bilboinsa

    bilboinsa Piano User

    Jan 24, 2006
    San Antonio, TX
    A real hero on TM. I am not near the player you are, so there is no advice I can give--only prayers and support from far away. All the best to you!

  7. pipedope

    pipedope Pianissimo User

    Sep 2, 2007
    Lots of time and gentle playing. Give yourself time to heal.

    I am in cycle 4 of 8 (or so) cycles of chemo (RCHOP) for a difuse large B-cell lymphoma. I am playing what I cand but the last two weeks I haven't been able to play at all. I just try to do what I can each day.

    Remember, time and gentle with yourself.
    Take the time to build up, not tear down.

    As long as you survive, you win!

    Thanks for your post.
  8. tatakata

    tatakata Mezzo Forte User

    May 29, 2007
    very inspirational sean. keep it up!
  9. Pedal C

    Pedal C Mezzo Forte User

    Jan 24, 2005
    Since your range is working, it sounds like you must doing something right already! I just started playing again after abdominal surgery (much less severe then yours) and I could play golf before I could play the trumpet. I think it takes a long time for those muscles to recover, and I'm sure even more so since you've lost muscle and are dealing with the muscle/mesh situation. I had to take about five months off after sugery and chemo and it was at least two or three months until my breathing started to feel full and free again, and I've always tried to by ralaxed with my air. You've gone though MUCH more than me, so it'll probably be quite a bit of time until you get the stamina back. It doesn't take a tremendous amount of ab strength to play the trumpet, so I would imagine that even if you can't ever do as many sit ups as before, you'll probaly be able to get your trumpet playing mechanics as strong as time.

    A visit to a good teacher who believes in a free relaxed air flow might be in order, but like I said, it sounds like you're doing pretty well on your own.

    Thanks for sharing your story...Continued good health!

  10. SeanP

    SeanP Pianissimo User

    Jun 14, 2007
    Thank for all your replies - very encouraging! I do not consider myself inspirational, but rather more frustrated!!

    rowuk and Vulgano Brother - I am really trying to be relaxed when playing and this certainly helps - before the rounds of surgery, I considered myself fairly relaxed and mentally, I sing what I want in my head and it usually comes out the end of the trumpet without much effort. I will start playing more tunes rather than exercises - that is something I hadn't really considered but it makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately, I do not have a flugel - and can't get it by the WAF! (I have 10 trumpets so another one at the moment is not a possibility). So I'll use my rotary which I love and see if that helps. I am still teaching, but only a couple of students at the moment and that does focus me.

    To pipedope and PedalC - pipedope I know what you're going through - chemo is horrible. The first round of chemo (after removal of 140mm tumour, 52 lymph nodes and 75% of my intestines) I had 15 cycles (30 weeks) and had a groshon line into my chest>heart to administer the chemo - obviously, I couldn't play at all, it was just too painful. This recent operation has only stopped me for 3 months so I want to get playing again as much as possible. Stay with it during the chemo as much as you can - I certainly found that playing, or when I couldn't, listening to as much as possible really takes my mind off everything else in life. Each day at a time - but it does get better, even when the chips are down, there is always light at the end of the tunnel - even if it seems longer than you would like sometimes. PedalC, your right in that the breathing is difficult and does not feel free and easy - but your sports is certainly helping - I am walking again now everyday - unfortunately, the chemo destroyed the nerves in my hands/feet/legs and mouth and whilst these are slowly recovering, walking is painful and eventually the legs and brain no longer co-operate (because I cannot feel anything) and I stumble and sometimes fall right over - it's hilarious and I just laugh about it! Swimming would be good, although for the same reasons it is just too painful to get into the water at the moment. When this improves I will be doing some sport/gym.
    Good luck to both of you - you are in my prayers.

    Thanks to all of you - I'm off to take on board everything you've suggested and do some practice :-)

    Best wishes,


Share This Page