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WNY teen cancer program takes a wide view of therapy

There was something about the healing vibration of the balaphon that made Jordan Dicioccio want to express herself.

“Wah, wah, ya, new coco, everybody, everybody bring your Calabash,” she chanted along with fellow cancer survivors as drum instructor Griffith Brady struck the wooden planks of the African-inspired xylophone.

“I’d never heard of the instrument but I followed the rhythm that he taught us,” said Dicioccio, 20, of Elma, who was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor at age 6 that created lasting cognitive and physical challenges.

She and about a dozen other girls and young women who have battled cancer recently gathered with their parents at the Breast Cancer Center of Western New York for the percussion presentation. It was the last in a 12-week session of Saturday morning classes designed to help teach them how to better manage their treatments or lingering symptoms.

“We have been living in the traditional medical world since my daughter’s diagnosis,” said Tammy Olejniczak, Dicioccio’s mother. “No one steps outside that box very much when you’re going from doctor to doctor. I feel like here we have explored so many things that we may never have had the opportunity to explore.”


“It was so relaxing, that music to our ears. The feelings that it elicited were amazing. ... Just having the opportunity to slow down and let things happen was another great experience.” – Tammy Olejniczak


Two nonprofits combined to offer the free Wellness Through Cancer program: Buffalo Wellness, which promotes healthier lifestyles by helping to bridge the gap between Western and holistic medicine; and Kaely’s Kindness, which helps with physical, emotional and practical needs of teens with cancer. The Breast Cancer Network hosts Buffalo Wellness programs. The Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo channeled grant money provided by the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation for the cost of supplies, instructors and other needs.

“We know the psychosocial aspect of the recovery, especially for teenagers is so critical,” said Maggie Dreyer, executive director of Kaely’s Kindness. “They wanted the peer support but they benefit so strongly from these therapies that they otherwise couldn’t afford, which is so critical to their overall well-being.”

The young ladies got blenders or juicers as part of a class on nutrition. They learned about the benefits of essential oils, and meditation, mindfulness and deep breathing techniques that come with tai chi. An art therapy class and instruction on how to grow a sprout garden also were part of the mix.

[RELATED STORY: Buffalo Wellness bridges gap between traditional, holistic health]

Olejniczak said she was among the busy parents taken aback at first by the deliberate nature of classes. For instance, Buffalo Wellness Executive Director Rebecca Lesniak, a reiki master and life-mapping coach, conducted a class on Tibetan sound bowls.

“At first,” Olejniczak said, “I thought, ‘I need to get home and do the laundry, and this and that,’ but it was so relaxing, that music to our ears. The feelings that it elicited were amazing. We don’t live that way. Just having the opportunity to slow down and let things happen was another great experience.

“I think everyone feels that once you go through cancer treatment, you’re miraculously cured and you go on with your life,” she added. “It’s not like that in many cases. You continue to be followed by many physicians. ... It’s not fun to be a cancer kid and be told by doctors, ‘Do this, do that.’ You have to constantly look for the bright side.”

Lesniak said the classes were designed to address mind, body and spirit. “These things are not going to cure our disease but they do heal us in some ways,” she said. “These girls now have a better understanding about what it means to heal emotionally, let pain go. The big thing that we saw was the educational component.”

Brady, founder of the Sly Boots School of Music & Art, appreciated the chance to share his love of percussion with those in the program.

“This is why I got into this,” he said. “The healing aspect.”


Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon

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