Taylor Swift got me through cancer treatment. Her music has been the soundtrack to several difficult seasons of my life.

Taylor Swift got me through cancer treatment. Her music has been the soundtrack to several difficult seasons of my life.
  • Taylor Swift's music has gotten me through many difficult seasons in my life.

  • Her songs have been a source of comfort and strength, including when I went through cancer.

  • Now, I listen to Taylor Swift when I get my twice-yearly MRIs as part of my cancer screening.

I sat in my hospital gown in the cold radiology room, anxiety pumping through my veins like the contrast dye they would later inject into my system. Even though these MRIs had become routine, part of a twice-yearly, 10-year protocol since I'd been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017, I still felt the usual shift in my stomach and subsequent shortness of breath.

As the nurse prepared my IV, she offered me a choice of music for my MRI. When I told her I was in my Taylor Swift era, she laughed and said I was going to be a big hit with the radiologist on call. After all, how many times could a person listen to the SiriusXM Symphony Hall station without falling asleep themselves?

MRIs are never pleasant, but they're better when Taylor Swift is playing

We were sitting in the makeshift triage area, a small room with no windows. I'd refused the prescribed benzodiazepine for my MRI, worried that on the hour-plus drive home, I would get into an accident. As I stretched out my arm, the nurse wrapped a tourniquet around my bicep and started humming "Cruel Summer." I tried to ignore the giant machine in the middle of the room, glowing menacingly from within like the Death Star.

A few minutes later, I was facedown on the sliding table, mentally preparing myself and channeling my inner Yoda.

"We're going to start the music now. Try not to move," the technician said. Then, as I slid into the machine, "Blank Space (Taylor's Version)" started playing through the speakers.

"OK," I said. My voice echoed in the chamber.

This isn't the only difficult thing Swift's music has gotten me through

I've always been a Swiftie. When her first two albums were released, I was in my 20s, working a job I hated in a city I also hated. Her country songs about heartache and longing resonated with my own feelings of nostalgia. By the time she released the albums "Speak Now" and "Red," I'd made a decision to change careers and had moved across the country to Santa Fe, New Mexico. During these years, Swift was in her vintage-loving, genre-eschewing, starting-over phase, and so was I.

The song "All Too Well" had been my breakup anthem for a long-term, on-and-off-again relationship. I was learning to let go of the past, and Swift's music helped. By the time the album "1989" came out, I was married and having my first child. I remember dancing in the kitchen to "Out Of The Woods" the morning after my son, Max, slept through the night for the first time. And I also remember how I never thought I'd ever get over my mother's death, but when I heard the song "Clean," I had the sense that maybe, someday, I'd move through it.

Then, the album "Reputation" was released. It came out one month after my cancer diagnosis, and the pointed vengeful lyrics matched my mood. I listened to the album on repeat while I recovered from my mastectomy and reconstructive surgeries. After the cancer treatments pushed me into medical menopause, and I felt like a shell of the person I used to be. I hit the gym determined to increase my muscle strength, energy levels, and to ward off the tummy bulge. The lyric, "Honey, I rose up from the dead, I do it all the time," was the constant refrain that pushed me to my limit on the treadmill. In a way, I felt like I had risen from the dead too.

I could barely hear "Blank Space (Taylor's Version)" over the noise of the MRI, which sounded like a back grader getting stuck on a dirt road. My heart rate increased, triggered by anxiety, and I worried it was going to get worse. But then "Lover (Taylor's Version)" came on, and I thought about how she had composed the song for her ex-boyfriend Joe Alwyn before they broke up. Now, a few years later, she was dating a Superbowl champion and performing in Australia for 288,000 fans. I imagined the radiologist in her booth singing along, and I didn't feel as anxious.

Next, "You're On Your Own, Kid" started playing. I listened to the lyrics, "Something different bloomed, writing in my room," and thought about how after my mom died, I channeled all my energy and grief into becoming a writer. The machine got louder, beeping and dinging like a dial-up internet modem on full blast. Swift sang, "You're on your own kid. Yeah, you can face this," her music sweeping me to another time and place. I visualized it pulling electric currents from my body and ridding me of stagnant energy and disease. The one-note melodies and familiar lyrics were like my own personal Xanax.

Swift's post-breakup ballads have helped millions of people through difficult times, myself included. She jumps into the messiness of life with us. Whether it's crying on the bathroom floor, plotting to murder a philandering husband, or cutting an ungrateful family member out of her will, she goes big. She purges feelings until she can move on. Until she's clean. My body still had so much to purge: contrast dye, the death of my mother, the cancer, the brutal side effects of the hormone treatments, my own eras. I hope Swift never has to deal with any of those things. There's still so much music to be written.

As the nurse helped me off the table, she took my headphones and handed me a robe.

"We should have the results for you in a few days," she said.

It's always nerve-racking having to wait for these results. But that day, I had to rush to get my child to a dentist appointment. I looked back at the giant superconducting magnet and everything I'd left on the table. Then, I thanked her and headed to the dressing room.

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