When Music Heals

Cynthia Cherish Malaran

When Music Heals

  • Words Jacqueline Raposo
  • Photographs provided by Cynthia Cherish Malaran
When Music Heals

When Music Heals

Cynthia Cherish Malaran considers music medicine.

As an early-thirty-something freelance graphic designer, she was successful and wealthy, but horribly unhappy. She’d grown up loving art and music, but repressed the breadth of her creative ambition to please strict parents no success in the arts — no matter how great — could ever please.

Then a longboarding accident in Sweden shattered her teeth, broke both of her kneecaps and one shoulder, left her with her Post Concussion Syndrome (PCS). She returned home to New York City with amnesia and, for almost two years, neither time nor therapy could bring memories back.

One day, the Paul Anka song Lonely Girl started to trigger something that had been lost deep in the recesses of her mind. “I felt recharged,” she says. As she dove into listening to music from the seventies through the nineties, more memories returned. She decided to release the angry, guilty person she’d been before. She got a divorce from the husband she barely recognized. And she embraced the powerful jolt that music brought to her life; a jolt she wanted to share. While continuing to recover, she started DJing “Penny Parties” for charities and at coffee shops, spinning for a cent and learning the craft as she went.

 

She started volunteering at hospice centers, too, bringing music to those whose minds were trapped inside immovable bodies. “I was like, I need to do this shit forever,” she shares of the feeling she’d never had for design. “I needed to work with music and with people.”

During this period of exploration, her energy began to wane and symptoms unrelated to her accident became more pronounced every day. A diagnosis concluded she had HER2-positive Invasive Ductal Carcinoma breast cancer. “Seriously, that’s what was happening while I was healing from this other stuff,” she looks back in awe today. “Why?”

Cynthia took a hard look at her life:  “It boils down to your nervous system,” she realized. “If your nervous system is being compromised every moment of the day by stress, psychological or emotional guilt, or hate for your work, then your immune system does not work right. So part of my healing is that I have to be happy! And grateful! And play with music all fucking day!”

 

When Music Heals
When Music Heals

She started writing about her double mastectomy and chemotherapy for Sloane Kettering Cancer Center and would DJ from her treatment chair with a smile on her face. One day, the lead singer of Chic – a group that made a huge musical impact on her childhood – crossed her path; he was also undergoing treatment and found healing in music. Their meeting opened her up to a whole new world. “I would not be working at this level – DJing for Oprah or opening for A Tribe Called Quest – if I hadn’t done those jobs for no pay and turned cancer into a creative job I could manage,” she recognizes. “If I had just turned cancer into I’m dying, I would be absolutely nowhere. The crazy twists of life!”

Now Cynthia flies all over the world sharing her music as DJ Cherish the Luv. She still volunteers regularly, teaching DJing to girls at the Lower East Side Girls Club, and playing for women in Riker’s Island Prison. She’s lovingly dubbed the “DJ to the Dying” for her continued work in hospice care. She hosts the show Wedding Cake on Heritage Radio Network and has a residency spinning vinyl at Stanley’s Pharmacy. And she finds great joy in making people dance.

Blending music from the seventies through nineties, memories return regularly. “I’m genuinely happy up there, because listening I’m like, ‘I remember this! I got a flat tired during this song!’ Or, ‘I kissed a boy to this!’ People trust the passion I have and want it at their event because it’s so real.”

She turns her joy down to those on the dance floor, too. Having a bad day? “Start dancing, and you’re not in a bad mood anymore,” she promises. “I love seeing people on the dance floor happy. Music helps facilitate that kind of stuff. I don’t know anything else that works in the same way.”

When it comes down to brass tacks, her experiences helped her discover her meaning of life: “If you’re constantly feeling irritated, then something in you is not feeling fulfilled,” she explains. “You might not even realize what it is. But if you ask yourself, you’ll be surprised what pops up. It could be as silly as, ‘I want to learn how to make candy!’ All these things add up. I know this because in hospice I’ve had eighty-year-old men crying about things they didn’t do in their life. Now they’re dying, and they can’t do it. And that’s really important. The best way to go about your day is to fulfill your needs.”

Her cancer is now in remission, and she’s confident in her continual treatment: “Music is not just a job; it’s medicine. If I don’t work for a day, I start to feel dark again. If I’m miserable, I can feel these cancer cells rebuilding. I cannot do that. I have to stay in a grateful, productive space.”

So move to the music. Because music heals.

 

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When Music Heals

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