Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Dec. 18, 2020.
When Penn Pennington, a musician and patient at the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at TriStar Centennial, started feeling down about his treatment, RN Alex Collazo came up with a musical way to lift his spirits.
The two sang a duet of "O Holy Night" that has gone viral.
Between playing in downtown bars and performing at the Grand Ole Opry, Pennington, 67, has been part of the Nashville music scene for over 30 years.
But in 2010, Pennington received a follicular lymphoma diagnosis. After six chemotherapy treatments, Pennington's cancer was in remission. But this summer, Pennington was told cancer had struck again, according to NBC's "The Today Show." Pennington now is receiving treatment for lymphoma at the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at TriStar Centennial, WZTV reports.
"The particular plan for treating this strain of lymphoma has been inpatient in the hospital, five days worth of chemo," Pennington said. He explained, "Because it's so aggressive, we're having to hit it really hard."
Pennington said he felt down when he had to be admitted to the hospital for his first round of chemo this month. "To find out the cancer is back … it's not something that anybody really wants to hear about themselves," he said.
A healing duet
During his treatment at Sarah Cannon, Pennington met Collazo, an RN.
"When [Collazo] came into the room, she was just so bubbly and so positive about trying to make sure that I felt comfortable, that I felt reassured that they were going to be on top of this and that they were going to be here for me," Pennington said.
Collazo said she could tell Pennington was having a hard time with his treatment. "I admitted (Pennington) to the hospital and we got to talking, so I asked him to tell me something fun about himself. I could tell he was kind of down," she said.
Pennington eventually told Collazo about his experience with music, and Collazo, who has been singing and playing guitar since middle school, suggested they play together.
Pennington's daughter Brandi Mykle Leath in a Facebook post on Dec. 15 wrote that Collazo brought in her guitar for Pennington "to play during his chemotherapy treatments." At first, the duo sang "Can't Help Falling in Love," by Elvis Presley. Then, Pennington asked Collazo if she knew any Christmas songs and they sang "O Holy Night" together, according to Leath. "Who knew she could also sing," Leath said in the post.
The video of Collazo and Pennington, which was posted on Dec. 18, has been shared more than 7,000 times.
The power of music therapy
Pennington said, "Any time you go in the hospital for cancer, it's automatically a downer." But his duets with Collazo serves as "an escape, for a while," he said.
Collazo said she and Pennington "connected with our musical interest and I wanted to do something for him to help him forget that he was in the hospital and just bring him some happiness."
Collazo said she always tries to "bring happiness and laughter to … patients because they're going through such a dark time in their lives." She added, "I really wanted to make a point for all my patients to help them forget that they're in the hospital and what they're going through for a few minutes, whether it's joking around with them or telling them crazy childhood stories or I guess, now, playing music" (WGHP, 12/18; D'Angelo, WSB-TV, 12/18; Shelton, WZTV, 12/17; Kacala, "The Today Show," NBC, 12/18).