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KSO conductor credits music, nurse practitioner with saving his life

The KSO just wrapped up its season. For Aram Demirjian, it was a reason to celebrate. Music is his life's calling and is literally "life-saving".

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Aram Demirjian said there was music in his ears from the time he was born. It resonated through his house. 

Now, 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 the best therapy my spirit could ask for,” said Demirjian.

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

“When she was doing the final examination to make sure everything was healthy, she noticed a suspicious bump on my neck," Demirjian said.

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

“It wound up the diagnosis was Classical early-stage Hodgkin Lymphoma which, you know, I was not expecting to be thinking about in my 30s," said Demirjian. 

Classical 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 treatment can be hard, physically and mentally. During arduous rounds 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 sort of in my own quiet way, process 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 at the podium leading the orchestra.

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

“I’m grateful to be able to say that after those 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 are fortunate to have regular access to health care, take advantage of it," Demirjian said. It might feel tedious to get those checkups until it becomes something that changes your life.” 

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