Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Learning Ukulele Has Helped My Memory

By Lori Nakamura
Aiea, Hawaii

I was 39 years old when I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. I went through 5 cycles of chemo, and still today endure the lingering effects of chemo brain.

Fortunately, I have a friend who told me about the Hands On Healing program. She explained that Roy Sakuma Ukulele Studios offers free lessons to cancer survivors. Adding to the joy of learning to play the ukulele, my two daughters were able to sign up for lessons as well. Next month makes two years since we've taken up ukulele, and it will be 5 years since my surgery and treatments.

My daughters and I are in different classes, but at home we'll often practice and play music together. It's hard to explain, but when I'm playing the ukulele, I seem to forget about everyday worries -- it's so soothing and comforting. After playing, I feel more relaxed.

The idea behind the Hands on Healing program is to help us forget about cancer for a little while, and it really does help. The physical and mental scars are a daily reminder of what we've been through, but the program let's me focus on learning new songs, and I know the process is helping with my memory. Every time I learn a new song, I feel it is helping my brain to heal.

My husband just loves listening to us play. I think it must be more difficult for the co-survivor to see a loved one going through something painful. Sometimes when our girls and I are playing, I'll look up and see him enjoying the music, and I can see the appreciation in his eyes and smile -- it's an appreciation of the music and of life.

There are a lot of negative things that come with battling cancer. But as with everything in life, there are powerful positives. Roy and Kathy Sakuma and the Roy Sakuma Ukulele Studios have given me and other cancer survivors a special gift. Every week we get to open a new gift, learn a new song, relax with the music, and heal just a little more.


  1. Thank you for sharing your positive story. We all can gain a lot from looking for (and forward to) the silver lining around the gray clouds in our lives.

  2. Lori, this is wonderful to read. Do the songs get easier to learn over time? Are you actually able to tell if your brain is getting sharper? I would love to know. Thank you.

  3. Thank you! Actually the songs are getting more complex. We've been learning more chords and different fingering techniques, but I'm able to remember a lot of songs and retain most of what I've learned... and overall I feel the fog is clearing. :)

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your story, Lori! Wishing you all the best.


  5. What a beautiful story! You are such a positive person and always bring joy and laughter to those around you.