Ron Noecker usually can’t resist.
Even as the sun is rising and he arrives at work at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Noecker finds himself in a familiar place.
“There’s a piano in the atrium at the cancer center,” says Noecker, RN, BSN, an oncology nurse. “I usually take a few moments when I get there at 6:30 in the morning and play. Nobody seems to tell me it’s too early. I even get a few little claps.”
Music has been a constant in Noecker’s life since third grade, when he started playing piano in his hometown of Bow Valley, Neb., a town of about 100 people in the northeast part of the state.
“Music, for me, is a centering thing,” says Noecker. “I’ve had several opportunities to sing songs to patients. I’ve even brought my keyboard to the hospital. Music has helped us in the midst of some challenging times.”
Those challenges, for himself and his patients, are what led Noecker to produce “Healing Songs at Christmas,” a CD dedicated to “those living and working with cancer.” The CD is available for purchase online at www.HealingSongs2008.com.
This holiday season, Noecker is handing out more than 700 copies to his patients and those on other units at Johns Hopkins.Ron Noecker’s CD, called “Healing Songs for Christmas,” is available online at www.HealingSongs2008.com.
“When I sing these songs, I try to do it with as much affection for people as I can,” Noecker says. “It’s wonderful, personally, to do it.”
For nearly two decades, Noecker served as a Catholic priest. He spent seven years in a parish in the northeast Nebraska town of Beemer.
“I felt a need to change,” says Noecker, who spent time on a sabbatical between careers teaching piano and English in Guatemala.
While in Guatemala, he also worked as a cashier at a restaurant called Rainbow Cafe.
“I realized that I could live down there,” says Noecker. “I loved Central America. But I couldn’t make it financially.”
Working as a volunteer at a hospital in a poor community triggered an interest in nursing.
“There were a couple of people from Texas who worked in the Peace Corps who came into the cafe,” says Noecker. “I told them I was interested in nursing, and they said, ‘Have you looked at Johns Hopkins?’ “
Noecker researched the nursing school online and eventually filled out all of his paperwork from Guatemala.
He began attending Hopkins in 2005.
Noecker found a common theme between the priesthood and nursing.
“They’re both about people and both about making a difference,” he says. “[Nursing] calls me to an even deeper sense of service.”
Music, says Noecker, also helped him through the difficulties of his first year in nursing.
“Last Christmas was my first Christmas as an oncology nurse,” Noecker says. “A diagnosis of cancer changes everything. It can be an awakening or be really destructive. It shows you how precious life is and what a gift our health is. It’s not just patients that are confronted by this reality and the effect of the diagnosis, it’s healthcare workers, too.
“It’s a lot of stress,” Noecker says. “Having music was a way to deal with some of that.”
The impact of his music on patients is not lost on Noecker.
Among the gifts he passed out this season was to a man who learned his chemotherapy treatments were not working.
“I had given chemo to him several times,” Noecker says. “I saw him and he said, ‘Ron, the chemo isn’t working.’ So I grabbed a CD and I said, ‘I want you to have this.’ He started to weep with me. To have something that expresses your care for somebody, that’s what gift giving is all about.”
Handling the Holidays
Noecker describes the music on his CD as songs that will support patients in contemplation.
Dealing with a diagnosis of cancer is increasingly difficult during the holidays, he says.
“No matter what religious practice you come from, it’s a heightened time of family and spirituality,” Noecker says. “It’s a pretty intense season rife with all kinds of possibilities for good [and bad].”
The front cover of the CD features the light of a single candle on a black background.
“In North America, we’re always looking for light in the winter months,” Noecker says. “Rather than being angry or hurt, I want them to know there’s a light that still surrounds them and cares for them at Christmas.”
The picture summarizes the music’s goal of accompanying patients along their journey in care.
“I hope people listen and are not afraid to go into deeper questions [about life],” Noecker says.
A Group Effort
The CD includes songs with Noecker playing piano and various family members singing and playing other instruments.
While relying on family members for their musical abilities, Noecker also got a boost from many of his coworkers and supervisors at Hopkins, along with friends and relatives.
“I was ready to give up the project,” says Noecker, who was unsure how to finance the CD after finishing nursing school.
Thanks to some creative thinking, Noecker was able to enlist more than 70 doctors, nurses, and others to be sponsors of the project for $100 each.
That added an extra bit of satisfaction for Noecker.
“It means more to me that it was a group effort,” says Noecker. “People joined together to make it happen. I got tremendous support from my colleagues and bosses.”
During the recording session last summer in Nebraska, his sister, Mary Jean Klug, was featured as a singer along with his niece, 11-year-old Madeline Noecker. His brother, Ken, played bass.
Many of his nieces and nephews served as a chorus, although their participation began in a difficult fashion for the early morning recording sessions.
“Have you ever tried to wake up nieces and nephews?” Noecker says with a laugh. “They said, ‘Aw Ron, what are you doing?’ I said, ‘I need a backup group.’ “
Barry Bottino is the Managing Editor of the DC/Maryland/Virginia edition of Nursing Spectrum.
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