Article: Music Heals the Soul Event Is Ripe Time To Celebrate for Zakim Center

6 Oct, 2022

Dr. Jennifer Ligibel, Director of the Zakim Center (left) with Dr. David Rosenthal (middle) previous Director of the Zakim Center, and his wife Judy (right).

For many New Englanders, apple picking is a yearly ritual marking the arrival of fall. In the case of the staff, patients, and friends of the Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies and Healthy Living at Dana-Farber, a recent visit to the orchard also provided a chance to celebrate - and support - an integral part of cancer care.

They were gathered on a recent sunny Saturday at Belkin Lookout Farm in Natick, Mass. for the Zakim Center’s annual Music Heals the Soul fundraiser. In addition to experiencing the healing power of music through a live performance by Savage Pianos, attendees enjoyed food and drinks, chair massages and ear acupuncture from Zakim practitioners, do-it-yourself mug painting and slime making, and a trip to the farm’s orchard for fresh-from-the-tree apples. There was also a silent auction of artwork, photographs, and other items, all of it helping raise funds to support the Zakim Center.

It was the first time in three years that the event was held in person, and speakers touched on the challenges and successes the Zakim Center has experienced during that time.

Due to patient safety concerns during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the center was forced to close its physical space on Dana-Farber’s Longwood campus in April 2020. Acupuncture, massage, meditation, and other programs were all halted, a move that devastated those patients who depended on these offerings to aid in their physical and mental well-being.

“Reaching out to our patients, we found that many of them were isolated and alone,” Zakim Center Director Jennifer Ligibel, MD, recalled at the September 17 event. “They were still going through cancer treatment, and still getting sick from the therapy, but they had been cut off from all of these services that were supporting them.” 

Within weeks, Ligibel told attendees, she and her Zakim Center colleagues reacted - setting up a variety of Zoom-based classes. The virtual sessions initially attracted just a handful of attendees as patients and providers adjusted, but after a month, attendance jumped to several hundred viewers. By December 2020, it had surged to 52,000 virtual visits, and while the Zakim Center eventually reopened for in-person acupuncture and massage, a variety of offerings like meditation and mindfulness have remained online.

“We learned that the virtual platform allows us to reach not only the patients who live close to the center, but thousands of patients everywhere,” Ligibel said. “In the last six months, we have provided services for patients from 17 different countries across the world through virtual programming – totaling 64,000 visits this year alone.”

These numbers drew big applause from the crowd, as did a thank-you from Joyce Zakim - co-chair of Music Heals the Soul with Laura Molta Grant-Hunter, Carol Kanin, and Linda Schwartz - when she spoke about her late husband (and center namesake) Lenny, for whom integrative therapies were a vital part of treatment.

“It’s been quite a ride these past two years, and we’ve come a long way with our state-of-the-art center,” Zakim said. “It’s not only growing, it’s thriving. Lenny was a big thinker, but I don’t think he could have imagined the impact that the center would have.”

Saul Wisnia