Breast Cancer Patient Gets Wish to Record Music
Michelle Lanham sits with, from left, social worker Aleeza Granote, Phillip Johnson Salon hair stylist Ellie Siebert and beauty consultant Stacey Roscow.
Michelle Lanham with social worker Aleeza Granote.
June 13, 2011 – Adults need to have wishes come true every now and then, says Aleeza Granote, a clinical social worker who works with patients at the Siteman Cancer Center and Barnes-Jewish Hopsital.
When she was assigned a patient fighting a tough battle against an aggressive cancer, Granote took it upon herself to find a way to grant the patient’s special wish – to record a CD of hymns she had written.
“Children who are seriously ill can get their wishes granted by the Make-a-Wish Foundation,” Granote says. “But there’s nothing like that for adults.”
Her patient, Michelle Lanham, 27, originally of Independence, Mo., is fighting breast cancer, which runs in her family. Lanham’s mother died of the disease. Her cancer was discovered in March. Hormone-based chemotherapy failed to stop its spread, and Lanham was in admitted to the hospital for emergency radiation therapy.
As Granote met with Lanham, they began to establish a bond. Granote found that Lanham had a strong will to battle her disease, a strong faith to fortify her and a love of singing and music. But Lanham had little in the way of a support system or resources.
“It’s not the best situation, and I really wanted to do something for her,” Granote says.
When Granote found that Lanham’s birthday was approaching, she asked Lanham what gifts she would like. Lanham asked for some eye shadow and a gift she thought would be out of reach – an opportunity to have someone record some of the songs she had written over the past several months and make them into a CD she could send to her grandmother in Independence.
Granote went to work on the phone. When she told people Lanham’s story, they signed on to help, donating products and services. As a result, Granote was able to fulfill Lanham’s wishes and then some.
On June 9, Granote told Lanham that she’d have a special day. A stylist and nail technician from the Phillip Johnson Salon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital came to Lanham’s room, shampooed and cut her hair and gave her a manicure and pedicure. Following that, Stacy Roscow, a Mary Kay cosmetics consultant who is also battling breast cancer, gave Lanham a facial, applied make-up and gave her a gift bag of products.
After lunch, however, came the biggest surprise.
At 1:15 p.m., an officer from the hospital public safety department picked up Lanham and Granote and drove them to a nearby building, where BJC HealthCare’s media services department is located. Media specialist Jay Shelp, videographer Brad Lechner and a news crew from KSDK-TV were waiting.
Lanham’s wheelchair was rolled behind the microphone in the department’s recording studio, and Shelp fitted headphones on her. He then stepped outside into the control room, sat behind control board and told Lanham to start singing when she was ready.
Suddenly, it was Lanham’s turn to surprise those at the recording session.
A tiny woman obviously weakened by fighting the effects of both cancer and cancer treatment, Lanham speaks in a soft voice. She often has to pause between sentences to gather her strength.
But in the recording booth, she began to sing in a high, strong soprano voice, leaning into the microphone with her eyes closed. Without accompaniment or hesitation, she sang two hymns she had written and Sarah McLaughlin’s “In the Arms of the Angels.”
After the three songs, she talked briefly to the KSDK-TV crew.
“This was my wish – I have always wanted to do this” she said of recording. “If I had a wish to do anything, meet a celebrity or anything else, I’d wish to do this. I know if people hear my music it will get a message out that they have nothing to be scared of.”
She then tried to sing “Amazing Grace” but lacked the strength to go past the first verse.
Granote, concerned that her patient was starting to tire, took Lanham back to her room for a treat of angel food cake, berries and whipped cream, shared with Lanham’s nurses.
“Everyone asks the same question: ‘How did you know she wanted to do that?'” Granote says. “My answer: It was pretty simple. I got to know my patient. She opened up to me and shared her wishes with me.
“I feel this was an awesome privilege to be able to help her at this time in her life. I can't believe her wish actually came true, and to be part of this experience was so special for me.
Granote played down any suggestion that her actions on her patient’s behalf were extraordinary. “It’s just what you’re supposed to do.”