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Every child who finishes chemo gets a rousing serenade. The woman behind Children’s Hospital’s “Last Chemo” song.

Warning: you will be humming "The Macarena" for the rest of the day.

by September 7, 2018

Photo by Susan Urmy

Holly Tyler, RN, BSN, has a knack for writing jingles.

What started off as a kind gesture – writing a little ditty to say goodbye to one of her longtime patients, has turned into a standard send-off for oncology patients at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

Sung for the first time on June 15, 2011, to Marshall Billingsley then 17 years old, the “Last Chemo” song has been used to serenade hundreds of patients since then.

“The day Marshall completed his last chemo also happened to be the day he was being discharged,” recalled Tyler, who was one of his primary nurses. “I just kept thinking, I want to do something special for him.

“I ran to the fishbowl [the area where the nursing staff congregates] to think about a tune that everyone would be familiar with. The first thing that popped in my head was “ The Macarena.”

“The Macarena” was a worldwide hit for the group Los del Rio in 1993, and the earworm-ready tune and its accompanying dance have been recognizable and popular since.

After Tyler had a tune in mind, she started Googling words that ended in ‘tion.’

“It took me about 10 minutes,” she said.

And the rest is history.

For 10 years Tyler, who came to Vanderbilt in 2005, worked as a nurse on the pediatric hematology/oncology inpatient service. She joined the clinic staff in the Doctor’s Office Tower in 2015.

And when she did, she heard the staff singing a song with the same lyrics, but the tune was off.

“When I first heard it over here, I was like – that’s really not how it goes. Of course, people asked how I knew. I told them, ‘Because I wrote it,’” laughed Tyler.

Now, everyone sings the song to the tune of “The Macarena,” much to the delight of patients and families.

The boy who started it all, Marshall Billingsley is now 24 and has been in remission from Ewing Sarcoma since 2011. For him, learning that the song written for him has become a Children’s Hospital tradition is “pretty cool.

“So many people had been a part of such an important part of my life – and for them to all sing to me on my final day of chemo and when I was being discharged, it was neat,” Billingsley said. “It meant a lot to me and I am sure getting that special treatment is a big deal for other patients too.”

Each child not only gets a “Last Chemo Song” send off but a special gift from the Child Life Services, the staff who are professionally trained in understanding and meeting the needs of children and teens in the health care environment.

Tyler said most hospitals have special things they do for their patients when milestone dates come around. Some places, she’s heard, ring a bell.

“We just love singing and making a big deal out of their final chemo,” she said. “It’s a momentous occasion.”

The mother of a child finishing chemo posted this video of the “Last Chemo Song” to social media:

Celebrating our patients is one of our great joys. We celebrate in lots of ways at our hospital, with music being one of our favorites. “Hey, no more chemo” is an original song we’ve sung for years. This mom’s capture of the song + her words really moved us. We hope it touches you too. ・・・I’ve heard this song a hundred times. Sitting in clinic with Arlie as she is getting infused and we watch someone finish their last chemo, sitting in the hospital after a relapse and watching so many children walk out those doors. Finished! All done! I cry every.single.time. I’ve always envisioned how we would feel.How we would celebrate. It has seemed like forever away for us some days. And then to have to start all over with more intense treatment. I honestly wasn’t sure if we would see the end of chemo some days. Yesterday they sang the no more chemo song and it felt so surreal. And I pray the song is true. I pray she is completely healed forever and always. Chemo is the worst but it helped kill the bad cancer cells in Arlie’s little body. All the mixed emotions today. So bittersweet ❤️

Posted by Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt on Thursday, July 19, 2018

 

And, for the record, the official words of the song:

 

Today is a day for celebration

No more chemo administration

You’re done with possible complications

Hey, no more chemo!

 

No more nausea aggravation

No more Vincristine causing constipation

No more overnight irritation

Hey. No more chemo!

 

We’re so proud of your transformation

We think you’re perfect cause you’re God’s creation

So now it’s time for you to change the nation

Hey, no more chemo!

 

Holly Tyler, Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital, singing, nursing, cancer, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center