Knoxville Symphony Orchestra conductor says music saved his life

The KSO has just finished its season. For Aram Demirjian, it was cause for celebration. Music is his life’s vocation and is literally “saving”.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Aram Demirjian said there has been music in his ears since birth. It echoed in his house.

Today, music surrounds the conductor of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra on the stage of the Tennessee Theatre. The sound of the symphony is his passion. And at a turning point in life, it was his comfort.

“It was absolutely the best medicine and therapy my mind could ask for,” Demirjian said.

Last summer, he made a routine visit to his nurse practitioner. Demirjian has his ears checked every six months to make sure they are as clean as possible so he can hear the orchestra clearly during rehearsals and performances.

“When she was doing the final exam to make sure everything was fine, she noticed a suspicious lump on my neck,” Demirjian said.

That suspicious lump was a swollen lymph node. The nurse practitioner scheduled a battery of tests for her. Next comes “wait and see”. Then after six long weeks, he got an answer.

“It ended up getting the diagnosis of classic Hodgkin’s lymphoma at an early stage that, you know, I didn’t expect to think about in my 30s,” Demirjian said.

Classic Hodgkin lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system, which is part of the body’s immune system. The most common symptoms are swollen lymph nodes, fever and fatigue. Caught early, it is curable.

But the treatment can be difficult, physically and mentally. Through arduous cycles of chemotherapy, Demirjian’s escape was the music of 19th-century composer Johannes Brahms.

“So music was a really wonderful way for me to both focus on something that I loved and also in my quiet way of processing what I was going through,” Demirjian said.

In January, Demirjian heard another sound that was music to his ears. He rang a ceremonial bell to celebrate the end of his cancer treatment.

Not even two weeks later, he was back on the podium leading the orchestra.

And four months after his return, there was another reason to celebrate.

“I am grateful to be able to say that after these four months, I am cancer free,” said Demirjian.

He credits a conscientious nurse practitioner, routine visits and, of course, music.

Now Demirjian has a message for everyone.

“If you’re lucky enough to have regular access to healthcare, take advantage of it,” Demirjian said. It can seem tedious to pass these exams until it becomes something that changes your life.

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