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Dentist’s Healing Harmonies Bring Comfort to Cancer Patients at URMC

by Madonna

Rochester, NY – In the lobby of the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center in Rochester, Dr. Luis Alberto Mendez, a resident at the Eastman Institute for Oral Health, sits at a piano. His fingers gracefully find the keys, and a soothing melody fills the air. For a brief moment, patients and visitors are transported to a realm of solace, momentarily liberated from the burdens of cancer.

When contemplating cancer treatments, the usual suspects come to mind – surgery, radiation, chemotherapy. Yet, within these austere medical walls, there is a place for music, which may not cure, but certainly comforts. The power of music is a force to be reckoned with, offering a refuge for those enduring the trials of cancer.

Harley Bowman of Rochester, a cancer patient who has experienced the profound impact of music during his own journey, attests to its soothing influence. At the Wilmot Cancer Center, part of the University of Rochester Medical Center, Harley found himself in the lobby in August 2022, waiting for his wife’s consultation at the Pluta Cancer Center. Both Harley and Joan Bowman were grappling with their own battles against cancer.

Amid the anxiety and gloom, the sound of Luis Mendez’s piano reached Harley’s ears, casting a ray of hope into the room. The enchanting music lifted their spirits and moved Harley to tears, as it did for others in the vicinity.

During subsequent visits to Wilmot, Harley frequently encountered Luis, who continued to play music that offered solace to patients like himself. Luis’s story adds another layer of inspiration. Hailing from Mexico, the 33-year-old dentist started playing the piano at the age of 15 and contemplated a career in music. Ultimately, he chose a path in dentistry, earning his degree in Mexico.

In 2020, Luis arrived at the Eastman Institute, situated on the medical center’s campus, for advanced training. Accompanying him were his wife, Maricela, and their two young children, Natalia and Mauricio. Although he had to part with his piano in Mexico due to the costs of moving, Luis continued to play at his church. The discovery of a piano in the Wilmot lobby rekindled his musical calling.

The heartfelt response to Luis’s music within the cancer center was unexpected but deeply gratifying. Patients expressed their gratitude, sharing that his music provided a vital respite from their current tribulations, offering a glimmer of hope akin to a spiritual experience.

Luis not only plays but also listens intently to the individuals touched by his melodies. They confide in him, sharing their fears, hopes, and sometimes even jubilant news of being declared cancer-free.

Yet, Luis yearned for a piano of his own. The answer to his wish came from Harley Bowman. One day, Harley asked Luis if he wanted a piano, revealing that he and Joan had a friend, Lucille Muench, who was eager to give away a cherished family piano as she was relocating to Virginia. The instrument, passed down through three generations, would now find a new home, ensuring it would be cherished once again.

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