Coping With Cancer Through Music
- Rev. Matthew Simpkins is currently facing stage 4 melanoma. To get through treatment, he’s turned to music and even crafted a song – with a full album to come – that uses sounds from his MRI scans.
- Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that starts in the same cells that give your skin, hair and eyes their color. And stage four, or metastatic, melanoma is the most advanced stage of the disease where the melanoma has spread to other organs, such as the lungs or brain.
- Treatment options for metastatic melanoma include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and virus therapy, but treatment breakthroughs in the realm of immunotherapies and targeted therapies have made a huge impact on survival rates.
- Many other cancer survivors have told us that music served as an amazing outlet during their cancer battles.
Simpkins, 44, of Lexden, England, was first diagnosed with acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM) in 2019. ALM, sometimes simply referred to as acral melanoma, is melanoma occurring on the hands and feet (palms, soles, fingers, toes, and nail units).Read More
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The track he’s since crafted is entitled “Spooling” (listen here). This artistic process began when Simpkins figured out which keys the MRI machine’s sounds were in and crafted some accompanying harmonies in his head while laying in the scanner. From there, he downloaded the MRI’s noises from the internet so he could record and layer them for the song.
“It was like being in some bizarre nightclub – these deafening sounds, but they were groovy sounds,” Simpkins said. “Being creative, sharing that with your family and friends and making the best of the hand you’ve been dealt – that is how I’ve coped with it every time I’ve gone in.”
“Spooling” is the first song released by Pissabed Prophet – a band formed by Simpkins in collaboration with his friend Ben Brown. The group will release a full, 10-track album, titled “Pissabed Prophet”, on May 12, 2023.
“The year of making this record has been one of the best of my life – musically and striking up a friendship in such a short amount of time with a real intensity,” Simpkins said. “I hope [people] find it and enjoy it.
“It would be great if people who are feeling nervous about a scan might hear the track – maybe it will be a bit less scary when you see a hairy vicar sing a song about it.”
Treating Stage 4 Melanoma
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that starts in the same cells that give your skin, hair and eyes their color. Melanoma can develop from an existing mole or develop as a dark or pink growth on the skin – even in places that never see the sun.
According to the American Cancer Society, the risk of melanoma increases as people age with the average age of diagnosis being 65, but the disease is not uncommon among those younger than 30. In fact, it’s one of the most common cancers in young adults (especially young women).
“Melanomas are the deadliest type of skin cancer because they have a tendency to spread to other parts of the body,” Dr. Anna Pavlick, a medical oncologist with Weill Cornell Medicine, told SurvivorNet.
There Is No “Cookie Cutter Recipe” for Treating Stage Four Melanoma
When we’re talking about stage four, or metastatic, melanoma, we’re looking at the most advanced stage of the disease where the melanoma has spread to other organs, such as the lungs or brain. Thankfully, the survival rate for later-stage melanoma has improved drastically in the last decade because of really incredible treatment breakthroughs including immunotherapies and targeted therapies.
RELATED: Immunotherapy Drug Keytruda Shows Promising Event-Free Survival Results For High-Risk Melanoma Patients When Used Before And After Surgery
Immunotherapy, in general, works by harvesting the power of one’s own immune system to fight cancer. And specific drugs like Keytruda (pembrolizumab), Opdivo (nivolumab) and Yervoy (ipilimumab), for example, has been a huge game-changer in treating late-stage melanoma.
An Immunotherapy Success Story: Mary Elizabeth Williams Lived Through Metastatic Melanoma
Some stage 4 melanomas have also been found to benefit from targeted drugs that shrink or slow the tumor by focusing on the BRAF mutation. These targeted therapies, also known as BRAF and MEK inhibitors, are designed to block the signals that help the cancer cells grow.
RELATED: The Genetic Mutation That Drives Many Metastatic Melanomas
“A BRAF mutation is a genetic abnormality that happens within 50 percent of melanomas that spread to other parts of the body,” Dr. Pavlick explained. “It is this genetic abnormality that actually drives the melanoma to want to spread.”
Radiation Is Effective for Certain Metastatic Melanoma Patients
Other treatment options for stage four melanoma include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and virus therapy. In other words, there is no standard treatment, and everyone’s journey will look different based upon varying factors.
“Every patient is different and every situation is different,” Dr. Pavlick said. “There is no cookie-cutter recipe.
“It really is a matter of looking at the tools we have so that we can pick the right tools to give the patient the best outcome.”
Music and Cancer
Other people like Matthew Simpkins have told SurvivorNet music played a huge role during their cancer journeys. If you’re a cancer warrior looking for some more inspiring stories about the impact of art on a cancer journey, check out SurvivorNetTV’s “Music and Art: Reflecting On Your Journey.”
SurvivorNetTV presents Music and Art: Reflecting On Your Journey
In this special program, you get to hear about the stories of Marianne Cuoozo, Bianca Muniz, Joel Naftelberg, Marquina Iliev-Piselli and Matthew Zachary as they reflect on the role of music and art during their cancer journeys.
Take Muniz, for example. She found her love of performing to be a savior after her ovarian cancer diagnosis at 11 and breast cancer diagnosis at 22.
My Friends Went Away After My Diagnosis; Thank God For Music
“This experience has had two different effects on my creativity and my music, so I’ve gotten a lot of inspiration from it,” she said. “But also the side effects of treatment, of chemo, and surgery have definitely had a little bit of a negative effect on my voice.
“But then again, I love performing. I always feel happy after I’ve performed.”
Glam Rock Chemo: How Air Guitar Got This Survivor Through Cancer Treatment
And you don’t even need to know how to play an instrument or perfect your vocal range to partake in the benefits of music during treatment. Iliev-Piselli found an effective outlet in air guitar.
“With cancer specifically, every couple weeks I would grab a bunch of different clothes that were donated and bring them to the hospital and would just try to make something happen in those 6 to 8 hours while I was in the hospital. It was glam rock chemo,” Iliev-Piselli told SurvivorNet. “I air guitared [during] my chemo, and it saved my spirit. It made it so I don’t look back on that time with fear.”
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