By Alice Gomstyn
How do you pass the time when cancer treatment means you're largely confined to your hospital room for weeks on end?
Tom Gillin, a 19-year-old college student, chose a less-than-obvious choice: He filmed a funny rap video channeling Jay-Z via the cancer ward.
"Some of the other videos I've seen about cancer patients are somewhat depressing," said Gillin, who was diagnosed with the pediatric cancer acute myeloid leukemia in April. "We wanted to flip the switch and do something that was the opposite of that."
Gillin teamed with several staffers at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia to create "Bald So Hard." The video's title refers to Gillin's chemotherapy-related hair loss but is also a play on the phrase "ball so hard" featured prominently in a hit song by Jay-Z and Kanye West. The song is parodied in Gillin's video, as is Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind."
The rollicking video — promoted on Twitter with the hashtag #BaldSoHard — is full of swagger. Gillin is seen mouthing lyrics such as "bald so hard my head got shiny" while dancing with his oncologist, playing basketball and even steering a "boat," a cardboard cutout made by hospital art therapist Abbien Crowley. (The actual rap was performed, mostly off camera, by University of Pennsylvania medical student David Blitzer.)
But Gillin didn't shy away from the fatigue and boredom confronting hospital cancer patients. It took him and his hospital pals some two months to complete the three-minute video since chemotherapy treatments often left him too weak to shoot.
The song's lyrics, written by Gillin and CHOP music therapist Mike Mahoney, manage to make light of it: "They gave me sleeping meds all day and I was dozing/When I got up I was so bored that I watched 'Frozen.'"
Gillin said his main motivation for making the video was to raise awareness of pediatric cancer, though he'd also appreciate it if Jay-Z — one of the teen's favorite rappers — took note of the unusual homage and paid the hospital a visit.
But don't expect Gillin to use the video to launch his own hip hop career. "I'm not that musically inclined," he insists.
Instead, he's looking forward to completing his final round of chemotherapy in a couple of weeks and ultimately returning to student life at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he's studying civil engineering.
For now, he's enjoying the happy reactions to his video, which has generated more than 20,000 views on YouTube since it debuted late last month. The Jigga Man himself hasn't yet weighed in but plenty of others say they love Gillin's jam, with one YouTube user dubbing it "best medicine in the world."