Singer/Songwriter Bob Cooney performs at the Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute waiting area where hundreds of people walk by, check in, wait for appointments, ride the elevator and move throughout the hospital.
His folk, blues, acoustic classic rock and original creations echo up the open lobby to the floors above. The songs he chooses offer optimism, forgiveness, humor and shared experience. Sometimes he provides hopeful background music. Other times Bob senses a moment when he feels he can offer more, and he announces that he is a cancer survivor.
Bob, from Middletown, Pa., was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease in 1975. He initially was given a year and a half to live. He underwent radiation therapy and was declared cancer-free in 1980. He shares his story to let people know that he’s “been there.”
“We are all pieces of the healing puzzle,” he says. “Sometimes the guy playing music, pushing a broom, or giving you a shave can be the one to offer the most thoughtful encouragement. He can cultivate the idea that beating something makes you stronger for the next step.”
When he shares his story and his music, he has often experienced the most profound moments as he packs up his guitar. “I recently had a gentleman listen to my performance and he had come over to chat. He had just decided to end treatment. I’m glad that I could offer understanding in that delicate moment.”
“Bob Cooney is a timeless and treasured musician, whose selection of original songs and classic covers speak to so many who pass through the Cancer Institute lobby. A survivor himself, the sensitive manner in which he shares his own story creates an even stronger connection with numerous patients, who look forward to seeing him every month,” says Keely McCue, Penn State Cancer Institute Events Organizer.
When Bob was a patient care attendant in an ICU in the 80s, he said there were so many moments of the transformational power of music. He said he played the mini harp for patients who could not sleep and he was proud that he had a way to help them relax.
He plays everything from Ella Fitzgerald to Jimi Hendrix on a variety of instruments including guitar, harmonica, harp, and more.
He remembers connecting with a patient in a nursing home who was ill and fell into silence. “No one could get him to talk. One night I played my ukulele for him. When I sang ‘My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean’ he sang along, uninhibited. This ballad transported him. I thought to myself, “I can use this to help others.’ It has brought me so much fulfillment.”
Check out Center Stage events calendar to find out when you can see Bob perform.