In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

May 15, 2018

“MelaNoMore” Puts a Tune to Conductor’s Cancer Journey

By In the Loop


Steve Lyons wanted to do something to raise awareness about the melanoma after his diagnosis. So the longtime conductor composed an original piece of music and invited a diverse group of musicians to bring the piece to life.

Steve Lyons stood at the podium, lifted his hands and began conducting the sea of musicians looking up at him. It's something he's done countless times before as director of the Champlin Park High School Band and St. Louis Park Community Band. But this concert was also a first for Steve. It included a performance of "MelaNoMore," a piece he'd composed himself — and one with a very personal history.

The journey to that performance began two years ago, when Steve learned that what he thought was a wart behind his ear was actually melanoma. He headed to Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus for treatment. There, "doctors removed 32 lymph nodes from his neck and head," where the cancer had spread, reports the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The next step was immunotherapy, which he began in June, "taking a medicine that boosted his immune system to find and destroy the cancer cells in his body," the paper explains.

While the treatment did its job, Steve would often talk about his job with one of his doctors, Svetomir Markovic, M.D., Ph.D. And as the two shared stories about their lives and families, Steve learned that Dr. Markovic's daughter is a budding French horn player. The good doctor would often ask for tips to pass along to her. "Since I knew something about his illness and nothing about the French horn, and he knew a lot about the French horn and a little about his illness, we thought we'd educate each other," Dr. Markovic tells Hometown Source.

As Steve neared the end of his treatment, he began to think about ways to raise awareness about melanoma. With a life spent enriched and surrounded by music, he thought a concert seemed a natural choice. He envisioned creating an original piece of music that would be performed by an intergenerational band, with members of the St. Louis Park Community Band, his own students and students from the band at Fridell Middle School in Rochester, including Dr. Markovic's daughter. "I think my doctor saved my life," Steve tells the Star Tribune. "How do you thank somebody? You take care of their kids."

On May 8, that group of musicians assembled at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis to bring "MelaNoMore" to life. The piece "follows a dramatic story arc" that includes "the intro where [Steve] learns his diagnosis, the segue where he is reassured of a treatment, and the percussive tug-and-pull of recovery," according to the Star Tribune. And there's a triumphant ending, with a "trumpet fanfare" that symbolizes "a reality someday when there's … a cure found," Steve tells the paper. He adds, "It's incredibly gratifying to have this thought, feeling, idea in your soul and have it come to fruition."

It was also incredibly gratifying for at least one member of the audience. Dr. Markovic was on hand to witness his patient and daughter making music together. There, he was given a special gift: a copy of the "MelaNoMore" score, which he tells us he plans to frame and hang in a workroom shared by staff dedicated to reaching the day when melanoma truly is no more.

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Tags: Dr. Svetomir Markovic, Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Melanoma, Patient Stories

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