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CLEVELAND (WJW) – A Cleveland woman battling a lifelong illness said music therapy at University Hospitals helped change her life.

September is National Sickle Cell Awareness Month and for Tasha Taylor, it’s a month she wants to spend time educating others struggling with the illness on how music therapy helped her cope with the near constant pain of the disease.

“Music therapy did change my life,” said Taylor. “It showed me there are other routes to take than just letting depression defeat you, letting your illness defeat you.”

Sickle cell disease predominately affects people of African descent. In the United States, about 100,000 people are estimated to live with the genetic blood disease with symptoms that range from mild to severe.

Diagnosed at birth, Taylor said she was not expected to survive childhood.

“I wasn’t supposed to be here I was supposed to die at nine. This is what I was told. I’m 41 now,” said Taylor.

During music therapy sessions at UH Connor Integrative Health Network, Taylor said she focuses on songwriting about the disease. Her words are then put to music performed by music therapist and researcher Samuel Rodgers-Melnick.

“There was no research that had been done in music therapy to address issues related to sickle cell disease and there was not a lot of attention being given… not only including pain, but issues [patients] face in terms of access to care,” said Rodgers-Melnick, an integrative health research and data specialist at University Hospitals.

Rodgers-Melnick said his research since working with Taylor in 2014 is primarily focused on sickle cell patients.

“These patients often face issues related to discrimination, difficulty communicating with medical providers and so sometimes we use music to help address those issues as well,” said Rodgers-Melnick.

Taylor said initially she was not a fan of the sessions but grew to love them and now cannot imagine no longer participating.

“I tell people, like, don’t let sickle cell define who you are. Don’t let it control you, you control it,” said Taylor.

She said the lessons help her manage pain levels and cope with the ever-present condition and treatments including medications, frequent hospital stays and monthly blood transfusions.