The Aroma Drum: Fire in a Nighttime Desert
by Bonnie D. Harr with Donna Lee Irwin
"I've always been a nurturing person," she says softly. In 1995 a serious car accident became the means through which Donna Lee Irwin first glimpsed how nurturing and healing would intersect in her life. Severe, incapacitating headaches and back pain were frequent and unrelenting following her accident. "After two years of traditional treatments and getting nowhere, my Mom dragged me to a Chiropractor. Within a month, my headaches were gone! I became fascinated with how the body works and what its healing potential really is." Like Alice of Wonderland, Donna Lee wandered into a massage therapy school and walked out "signed up".
Massage therapy began as a casual interest for Donna Lee, heightened to the point of entering a degree program and has transformed into a solid seven year practice. She shares that her natural inclinations toward the use of herbs, essential oils, poultices and the like, keep her engaged in reading about and studying each next modality for healing.
In 2010, Donna Lee was diagnosed with advanced, Stage 3 cancer of the right breast with positive lymph nodes. Eighteen weeks of chemotherapy, a mastectomy with axillary lymph node dissection, and thirty-eight radiation treatments dominated her schedule for a while. "I had one profound moment of fear at the beginning. . . I pushed through that. . . I just had to do it, as the Nike commercial says!" And getting it done has been exactly what Donna Lee has been about ever since! "It's an emotional journey, to be sure. Cancer opened my eyes to the people I had in my life -- they carried me through! It has brought me the incredible gift of gratitude." I listen to this wounded Warrior, see the sparkling eyes and hear the depths of her heart when in whisper-like tones she says, "I'm so thankful."
I met this woman near the end of her radiation treatments, oddly enough, because of an accident of my own that required massage for muscle release. The moment I saw her, I knew she was in the war zones of cancer. The turban on her head, the compression sleeve on her right arm and the general look of fatigue and the limitations it imposes on movements were well known to me in my work as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in woman-care. And yet, Donna Lee smiled. Our times together over the next weeks of my treatment would allow for the more intense and intimate discussions related to her journey through breast cancer treatments to healing. Donna Lee invited me to write in a "pink notebook" she kept at the front desk of the office. I noted that many others had written encouraging or inspiring words there, and I was moved afresh at the manner in which people can and do, in such circumstances, offer their best selves in behalf of another.
I was writing on one such day when I remembered that I had an Aroma Drum in my car. "Hey Donna Lee," I said. "Do I ever have something you might be interested in!" I went out to retrieve the Aroma Drum and introduced my newfound friend and massage therapist to it. The more I talked about the Aroma Drum's intent for personal stress management and self-empowerment, the more I realized that it might be just the tool to energize her for the balance of her radiation treatments.
I explained the construction of the drum, the use of the essential oils on scented disks, snapped in near the points of perforation, and how to most easily hold the drum, given her lymphedema; I talked about the intentionality of the Music4Life Stress Brake CD that accompanies the system. And then, I did the uncommon thing ~ "Keep my Aroma Drum," I said. "Use it until I need it for my group next month." Donna Lee's joy and disbelief in that moment was infectious! Later, she would tell me that her first thought was how to use the Aroma Drum with her clients! How like her to think of others FIRST!
So what happens to a woman with advanced, Stage 3 breast cancer who uses the Aroma Drum Personal Stress Management System? "I decided to give it a try and get a clinical sense of it," she said. As a musician, Donna Lee shared that she had drummed for years. When this opportunity to put things into one perspective in her own behalf appeared, she was open to it all. "I was truly lost in the drumming and the scents and the music...you know ~ lost, but grounded, too! Here I was busy, carrying my own stress, and I truly did experience it from an unexpected angle. It surprised me! I've worked with the oils in massage, the drumming in my music, used meditation and relaxation CD's and guided imagery, too. But putting this altogether this way -- well it's hard to describe it."
Donna Lee's description is pretty significant, all in all: "I felt stress relief, relaxation, fun. There were differences in each musical section of the drumming sequence. In the unsettled section, I felt confused, it was hard to get into the music. You really couldn't drum to it, you just wanted to get through it...just like cancer! In the soothing section, it was nice, quiet, soothing, calming. I had spontaneous images; I focused on my heartbeat. I allowed myself to sink into the music and let it carry me...I relaxed into it. I was drumming to my own heartbeat with an image of fire in the desert at night. It spurred different images at different times -- all expansive and vast." (I found Donna Lee's image of her heart and heartbeat significant, as she has residual heart and thyroid damage from her cancer treatments. With her oncologist's affirmation, she is using diet, supplements and herbals in an effort to reverse the damage.) "The AromaDrum and these images are an extension of that -- you know -- the things we can do to help ourselves and help our bodies heal! It takes you to a great open space! It lifted me!" she commented.
As for the energizing portion of the Stress Brake CD, Donna Lee had this to offer: "It makes me want to dance, twirl and power drum! It just does! It is hard to sit still, and I know I'd find it hard to just sit in a circle at this point. I would want to dance in the circle!" We sit together quietly for a moment. I hear the waterfalls behind us and see the beautiful palm fronds. The sun is shining, bringing its warmth in split rays through the glass windows. I glance at Donna Lee. There is strength in her... grounded, reaching, dancing, growing strength. I feel the timeless rhythms of the moments that have brought her to now.
"Can you see clinical applications for the AromaDrum for breast cancer patients?", I ask.
"Absolutely!" she replies without hesitancy. "It is great for that contorted, twisted anger you feel sometimes -- particularly the chaotic first segment. The accepting part eventually comes if you keep the going forward attitude -- the part where you do what you must because you know you must -- I felt the second part of the music and the drumming to be comforting, consoling, enveloping. And then, you know a person has to have the strength to fight it. The third part really builds your energy up so you can take it on!"
Donna Lee stops as if coming to a conclusion and offers two. "This AromaDrum is an excellent tool for just everyone, for so many reasons!" And finally ~ "I just love the Patchouli! Some people don't; I do! It's energizing!"