FROM BC CANCER:
The funds provided by Music Heals presented an exciting opportunity for BC Cancer – Vancouver to expand their popular Relaxation & Music Therapy program in 2022. The group is led by certified music therapist Carolyn Neapole and co-facilitated by a team of PFC counsellors from across the province. Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, the isolation and stress for those living with cancer has significantly increased. In response to the pandemic, Patient & Family Counselling (PFC) supportive care programs moved virtually and Relaxation & Music Therapy was offered twice a week and Music Heals funding allow BC Cancer to now run three times per week, with morning, afternoon, and early evening opportunities to attend. Broadening the offerings of this program allows for a broader demographic of patients to be able to attend and reduces barriers to participation.
By offering this program as a virtual drop-in group, BC Cancer was able to welcome patients, and their family members, friends, and caregivers. The demand for mental health support is climbing, and the Relaxation & Music Therapy Group offers a consistent, easily accessed supportive program that provides the benefits of relaxation along with those of finding community. Group members are welcomed from wherever they are able to attend – this includes their homes, chemotherapy treatment chairs, or hospital beds. On days when personal circumstances feel overwhelming, group members are invited to have private conversations with the facilitators after the group ends. Cameras and microphones can remain off should that be more comfortable for the attendees, and verbal participation in the opening and closing of the group is optional. In this way, the Relaxation & Music Therapy program offers flexibility to the cancer community to engage in the ways that work for them.
Feedback from a recent quality improvement survey indicated that group members would like more sessions per week at different times of day. Funding from Music Heals has allowed BC Cancer to meet this request, and the new early evening group will support those who miss the morning and afternoon sessions due to cancer treatments and other medical appointments. The new group also supports those patients who have finished treatment and are returning to work while still processing the emotional impact of surviving cancer. The group continues to be offered to people across the entire province, and the Music Heals funding has made it possible for Carolyn to reach out to each BC Cancer Centre to increase awareness about the group and the registration process. In addition to increasing the Relaxation & Music Therapy program offerings, funding will also be used to create additional recordings of the group program, which patients can access online, 24 hours a day. This provides a barrier-free opportunity for patients to access music therapy when they need it most. Sleep deprivation is a significant issue for cancer patients, and feedback from the group tells us that the recordings are an invaluable addition to the live program. They are particularly effective at helping patients fall asleep at night, and manage anxiety in heightened situations like waiting for scans, treatment, surgery, etc.
Lastly, funding from Music Heals will also support several sessions of “Finding Your Voice”, a music therapy and art therapy group, co-facilitated by Carolyn and art therapist Sara Hankinson this fall. For 4 weeks a group of 8 patients will engage in a variety of art and music projects aimed to connect them with their own creativity and avenues of self-expression.
Projects include visual art, sculpture, group song writing, spoken word poetry, and painting to live musical improvisation. Music Heals funding was responsible for the creation and delivery of this program in 2020, and we are excited to be able to offer it again. Thanks to the steadfast support of Music Heals, more patients, families, friends, and caregivers will receive the support they need as they navigate their cancer journey.
“In March 2020, patients looked nervously at me when I said, “it’s possible that we’ll need to stop meeting in person for a while”. The Relaxation & Music Therapy Group had become a hub of personal wellness and social connection for patients at BC Cancer. When a few weeks turned into a month turned into many months, the group was reinvented, made compatible to an online format, and once again patients could join together to care for themselves while spending time with others who would understand what they were going through. Since September 2020, over 225 patients and their families and friends have been a part of the program. Even though the group focuses on the experience of relaxation, group members sometimes share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with each other as they arrive and during the debrief at the end of the group. They congratulate each other for showing up, especially on the days when they feel poorly, or were worried about showing their struggles in the group for fear of upsetting others. They validate each other’s questions, worries, and experiences, and welcome new people to the group, telling them to keep trying, even if relaxation feels like an unachievable goal at first.
In March 2022, I launched a quality improvement survey to gather anonymous feedback about the group experience. The results were overwhelmingly positive, with 96% of group members saying they would refer a friend or family member to the group. Here are some samples of the feedback:
• This group shows me to give myself permission to take some quiet time and focus on myself for an hour. I often have to force myself to stop, regroup and calm my mind through the day. This group helps me do that.
• This group and music therapy is one of the best things that comes with cancer. I have learnt how to calm myself down and relax. With or without group. Also nice to see people who without discussing their conditions, I know we are in the same boat. I am not alone
• The music assists my mind to not wander unlike other meditation classes and I can achieve a higher degree of relaxation.
• I love the body scan, music, soothing touch practitioners, discussions, the different counsellors the other participants, and the reflection time after the session. I feel safe and supported in the group.
• This group is so important to my mental health. The musical aspect heightens the whole practice immeasurably and the spoken parts take me where I need to go.
• It’s a reliable source strength for me each week.
• In the music therapy I feel safe strong I can take control of my body in that hour.
• I am thoroughly enjoying having the relaxation class online, as surprisingly I am still able to get the same amount of relaxation that I would have gotten when I went in person. There is great energy by the group, and everyone is able to feel safe and still connect. Thank you for continuing to offer this online!
• The experience of music relaxation has helped me to feel calmer
• It has rapidly become a very important part of my life and I look forward to each session. Carolyn’s beautiful voice and gentle piano music instantly resonate with me and transport me to a place of peace and comfort.
• I can be tired, but still attend
• I am learning to relax in my own home environment, which is so important to me. I don’t want to only know how to be worried here.
• I don’t have to move after session allowing my body and mind to stay calmer longer.
• You can stay at home where you can be more comfortable and still feel like you are meeting with people.
After having decided to expand the program with a third session per week, I announced it to the group and the announcement was met with excitement! One of the group members was emotional when they told me how much it means to them to stay connected to this group as they return to work, saying, “the treatment is over, but my healing is just beginning”. The pandemic has taken a lot away from many people. The community and supportive spirit found in the online Relaxation & Music Therapy Group has been a bright, silver lining at a difficult time. Thank you for your generous support of a program that has come to mean a great deal to the patients at BC Cancer.”
– Carolyn Neapole, Music Therapist, BC Cancer