Cancer Country Music

When you look up “Country Music” you’ll mainly find definitions about origin.  One unwritten stereotype, however, is the emotional narrative of the genre, that can at times feel as if the listener is being manipulated to tears.

There surely is a cathartic aspect to listening to songs that make you cry, as evidenced on a recent home visit of mine.  I was seeing a young cancer patient, and the TV was set on CMT, with country videos playing in the background.  What shocked me was that the patient’s young wife and friends had me pause to watch part of a video in which the theme of the song was about death.  The wife commented, “We just love these songs, and sit here and cry with them all day” (As if there wasn’t reason enough).

Well, there are plenty of country songs to cry about. In fact, there may be enough songs to actually form an unofficial sub-genre called ‘Cancer Country’ as mentioned by Ron Rosenbaum in a 2007 article published on

So, if you are a country music fan or have friends or patients who are, add these next songs to your repertoire of emotional songs about people with cancer.  The warning label on these should read “may induce tears”

The oldest on my list is Tim Mcgraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying” written by Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman in 2004.  The song is associated with Tim Mcgraw’s father who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2003, living 9 months after diagnosis.  These lyrics set up the song, “I spent most of the next days, looking at the x-rays, Talking bout’ the options and talking bout’ sweet times. I asked him when it sank in, that this might really be the real end. How’s it hit ‘cha when you get that kind of news?”

In 2005 Rascal Flats released the single “Skin” written by Joe Henry and Doug Johnson. Known by fans as “Sara Beth” the song is about a girl with Leukemia going to her prom.  An example of the lyrics, “Sara Beth is scared to death, as she sits holding her mom, ’cause it would be a mistake for someone to take a girl with no hair to the prom”

Craig Morgan released his single “Tough” in 2007. This song is about a breast cancer surviver who teaches her husband a lesson about being ‘tough’.  The lyrics say it all, “She wore that wig to church, pink ribbon pinned there on her shirt, no room for fear, full of faith, hands held high singing Amazing Grace. Never once complained, refusing to give up, and I thought I was tough”

Finally, Randy Owen, former vocalist in the band Alabama, released his first solo single in 2008 entitled “Braid My Hair” written by Chris Gray and Brent Wilson. The song is about a bald headed girl going through chemotherapy and dreaming about what she will do once she’s well, as the lyrics state, “I’m gonna ride my bike, I’m gonna climb a tree. Gonna fly a kite, score running little league. I’m gonna go to school, make a friend, be able to run again. Take off my mask and just breath in the air. But most of all I’m gonna braid my hair.”

Besides being about cancer, each of these songs has another central theme- one we in Palliative Medicine talk about a lot – the theme of ‘quality of life’ living.  Each central person is dreaming about and attempting to live a full life in the midst of disease.

Anyone know of any other “cancer country” songs that should be included?

Cross published

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