AKapella: How music from the heart heals the mind, body, and spirit

In 2011, and again in 2016, The Cochrane Library (a collection of databases that contain high-quality, independent evidence for healthcare decision-making) published reviews of studies on the psychological and physical effects of music interventions on people with cancer.

The reviews covered 52 studies with 3731 participants, with some studies involving sessions with trained music therapists; other cases involved medical staff playing pre-recorded music.  The findings suggest that music therapy and music medicine interventions may have a beneficial effect on anxiety, pain, fatigue, heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure in people with cancer. Given that no negative side effects are associated with listening to music, it is certainly one healing modality worth trying.

Segue to an actual Philippine case: Alexa Kahn may not be a music therapist, but she sings, dances, and plays the piano. Music is in her DNA. While pursuing her passion, she found a way to channel her talents into making people happy and empowered. She started AKapella, where she uses her singing voice to inspire, uplift — and yes, heal people with physical and emotional pains.

Alexa shares her story: “I believe music has a very powerful healing ability. I first experienced its power when I was very young. When my grandfather was dying of cancer, it came to a point where he was in so much pain that he could barely open his eyes or talk. Whenever we visited him, we would sing to him his favorite song, “Amazing Grace.” Every time we sang to him, he would hum along and smile.”

Alexa Kahn sings from the heart to inspire and help her audience heal.

The sense of fulfillment that she got from that experience left a huge impact on Alexa. The benefits of music made itself felt once more on another unfortunate occasion; this time with her ninang, who was dying of cancer.  “She asked me to sing “The Prayer” to her because she said it made her feel unafraid to die. I was amazed how a song could make someone feel so empowered.”

These experiences with two of her loved ones became the spark that led to the creation of AKapella. To date, she has volunteered to share her gift of music with such organizations as the Jeremiah Foundation, Kythe Foundation, and the Carewell Community Foundation.

Alexa Kahn and her AKapella team with some Carewell members

During her  sessions with Carewell, she and her friend Monet Ganir, together with other AKapella volunteers, serenade members with songs the members themselves choose, which are mostly about struggle, acceptance, hope, as well as love and longing for departed loved ones.

Carewell volunteer Oscar Legado describes his feelings while singing along with Alexa as “magkahalong tuwa at lungkot.” Oscar lost his wife Lerry, a Carewell member, to cancer last year. Though still heartbroken because of his loss, he has learned to accept that it also meant finding new meaning and purpose in life. Today, he helps the foundation in its advocacy by volunteering to put his skills in reflexology to provide relief to other Carewell members.

A member who requested anonymity explains her reason for requesting Alexa to sing Beautiful by Christina Aguilera. “In many cases, cancer takes away physical things – a body part, perhaps lustrous hair after chemotherapy, which could make one feel less beautiful; but during the healing journey, one discovers  beauty in more meaningful forms, such as support from family and true friends, improved relationships, self-love, and stronger faith. After my breast surgery, I found Carewell, and that’s a huge blessing—to be with kindred spirits who laugh and cry with you, and with whom you can feel at ease without fear of being judged because they fully understand what you’re going through.”

The Carewell Community Foundation, true to its mission, simply leaves no stone unturned in providing programs to enhance the quality of life and the healing journey of people affected by cancer. Carewell members engage themselves in activities that are all part of an integrative and holistic plan to manage not only their physical, but also their mental, emotional, and spiritual issues.

Healing modalities at Carewell come in conventional forms, including medical and psychological counselling, support groups, and wellness talks. Meditative activities such as centering prayer, yoga, qigong, and gong sound therapy help in stress management. Its recent programs allowed members to experience Theta and millennium healing to address emotional concerns, and acupuncture for detoxification. Carewell members dance and express their creativity in arts and crafts classes. Fun is very much part of the equation, which members get a lot of, during field trips to respite destinations.

Persons affected by cancer, and even their loved ones, may join these wellness activities free of charge.

In partnership with Alexa and her AKapella team, the foundation is set to hold another session of mood-uplifting music on December 14, 2018 at the Carewell office in Makati. To know more about Carewell and its cancer-support activities, please call 815-1294 or visit www.carewellcommunity.org/