The healing power of music: Veteran and brain tumor survivor creates uplifting EDM tracks

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EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The therapeutic effects of music are helping one U.S. Navy veteran in El Paso recover from a brain tumor and providing uplifting music to listeners. 

“I actually found out that I had a brain tumor when I was stationed in Japan,” said D-NAM-X, a producer/DJ in El Paso. “I thought I was having a stroke at the time, I didn’t realize it was a type of seizure.” 

The brain tumor was successfully removed by a civilian neurosurgeon in Japan despite language challenges.

D-NAM-X told KTSM 9 News that the birth of his son two weeks before his surgery motivated him to endure despite the potentially fatal tumor and procedure.

“I just want people to understand that even though you can go through something as traumatic as a brain tumor, you can’t be down about it,” he said. “You should always continue to do your best to look forward to the future because there’s always something to look forward to.”

D-NAM-X produced his second album of electronic dance music (EDM) while waiting for brain surgery and said music has always been therapeutic to him. For D-NAMX, being a musician has helped him overcome some of his darkest hours as the artistic impulse to create drowns out other noise.

D-NAM-X grew up in El Paso, where he says he taught himself to play guitar and joined a few local bands.

“But as I grew up, I taught myself how to play other types of instruments to include bass guitar, drums, keyboards, turntables. And then I joined the Navy and was there for about 12 years. I spent most of my time overseas between Asia and Europe,” he said.

During his military tour overseas, D-NAM-X was able to book shows as a music artist at local clubs in places he was stationed at.

He said he didn’t start producing until a few years ago, even though he’d been playing music since high school.

“I decided to go back to college and was studying at Berklee College of Music online. And I just fell in love with music production and decided to release some of my own music,” he said.

D-NAM-X released his first album in 2019, Lucid Intervals, which is a reflection of his life in the military.

The album progresses through a series of four-beat kicks, claps and hi-hats that create the sensation of movement, a journey. 

D-NAM-X’s musical journey was changed following his neurosurgery.

The brain tumor was in his occipital lobe, the region of the brain that receives and processes visual stimuli like colors and shapes in the back of the head.

Research from the University of Central Florida reports that “musicians use the occipital cortex, which is the visual cortex, when they listen to music,” which means that the region of D-NAM-X’s brain that was affected by the tumor is exercised every time he produces music or plays back a song — like exercise for the brain.

Data also suggests that music can reduce stress and pain symptoms, which is also critical to D-NAM-X’s recovery. 

He now has occipital neuralgia, which is a condition where the nerves that run through the scalp are inflamed, which causes pain that can sometimes extend through the limbs.

“I do get a lot of pain, constant throbbing throughout my body,” he said. “And always, I feel like someone is poking me with a needle throughout my body.”

Frontiers in Human Neuroscience reported that there are emerging therapeutic applications involving music, the brain and rehabilitation that can be beneficial. 

“Music-based methods have been developed to improve motor, cognitive, language, emotional and social deficits in persons suffering from a debilitating neurological illness,” according to an article published in 2016.

D-NAM-X said music has definitely been instrumental to his recovery and that spending time producing in his home studio has helped him.

“I’m not able to do as much as I used to, like going out to tour,” he said.

Instead, he hosts livestreams twice a week: Wednesdays on Twitch and Fridays on YouTube. 
You can listen to his music here.

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