Minnesota phlebotomist's music lifts cancer patients

Gently drawing blood from patients in the cancer center at Methodist Hospital, Abraham Westlund does his very best to put those sitting in this lab seat at ease as much as he can.

"When you go in there you are a little bit nervous, but he makes you feel so good," says patient, Liane. 

Tom Haws first started looking forward to his lab visits with Westlund more than a year ago, when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Early on, every visit was an emotional roller coaster.

"You don’t know what it’s like walking from the parking lot to that room, the roller coaster you are on," said Haws. "Usually when you come here, you are a little bit scared, and when you see him I forget about the being scared. He just has a positive influence on me and a ‘good to see you ... keep fighting.’"

In addition to Westland's smile, positivity, infectious laughter, he trades the tiny prick of pain his needles might cause each day for the soothing piano keys in the hospital lobby. For three years, this is where the 24-year-old phlebotomist has offered up the sort of emotional medicine no doctor can prescribe.

"What these people have to go through every single day, it’s unbelievable," said Westlund. "I've met met some of the strongest people here."

 Playing original songs and covers, Westlund reads the room more than he reads sheet music. Crowds gathering are as common as tears and thank yous.

"I was back there crying, nice job," says one patient. 

"I get inspired every day by the interactions I have," said Westlund. "It's not so much about...'oh, I need to write about this', it’s more about 'I’m doing the right thing. I'm in the right place doing the right thing.'"

According to Westlund's mom, he’s been drawn to music since he was a baby. Social media filled with various gigs, and raps he's come up with, but these days, writing songs alongside his boss and another co-worker, this trio often turn the hospital hallways into impromptu concert halls. Recently they started recording a song they hope to release by late summer.

"I truly feel with this group it’s not just the sum of its parts. When each individual brings their components, it adds up to something else entirely," said Brad Lemke, Westlund's boss and Methodist Hospital Lab Manager. 

"It's a beautiful thing to walk into a place like a hospital and feel comfort by music because for so many people this is the last place they want to be," said Chloe Rohl, a producer specialist. 

That's the sort of sensitivity some of Westlund, Lemke and Rohl's biggest fans are most thankful for. 

"I asked him in private, would he play at my funeral? And he said ‘I’d be honored to.’ We don’t have a date and I hope it doesn’t happen," said Haws. "I have a couple videos I captured. When I feel down in the dumps,  I think, oh it’s time for Abraham. So I'll sit at home on the couch and pull up that video and listen to it kinda gets me out of the doldrums and back to where I should be."

For many staff members and patients, this music has become a bit of an anthem, as the fight of their lives continues. 

Westlund hopes to release a single of his song "Nederland" late this summer. He also has plans to play at the Minnesota State Fair. If you are interested in his music and following his work, you can follow him on Instagram at @AbrahamWestlundd.