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Prostate Cancer Recovery and Music Therapy

Alphonso Archer shares his experience with prostate cancer and his research project on music therapy and prostate cancer patients

Alphonso Archer joins OnFocus in this episode to discuss how his prostate cancer diagnosis changed his life in a very positive way and inspired him to reclaim his passion for music. Alphonso, a former IT sales professional decided, after a prostate cancer diagnosis in 2016, to pursue his lifelong love and passion for music and trained to be a music therapist. He is currently completing a master’s degree in music therapy and researching how men with prostate cancer benefit from music therapy for his dissertation. He is also an active member of a support group for black men diagnosed with and recovering from prostate cancer. 

Alphonso Archer’s music: https://open.spotify.com/artist/0p6CGWh3GSj8amuiU7Atsk

Alphonso’s research https://uwe.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_4ZufpFVGmJOgBZY

 

Clare Delmar

Hello and welcome to On Focus, brought to you by the the the Focal Therapy Clinic engage you with issues facing men diagnosed with prostate cancer that are little known, less understood, often avoided or even ignored. Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer amongst men in the UK. And with this somber fact comes a multitude of challenges and opportunities. I’m Clare Delmar. As we move into 2022, I’m going to be diving deeper into some of the more challenging issues faced by both patients and clinicians, including technology, clinical adoption of innovations, inequalities and nonclinical aspects of prostate cancer. Joining me today is Alphonso Archer, a former IT sales professional who, after a prostate cancer diagnosis in 2016, decided to pursue his lifelong love and passion for music and trained to be a music therapist. He’s currently completing a master’s degree in music therapy and researching how men with prostate cancer benefit from music therapy for his dissertation. He’s also an active member of a support group for black men diagnosed with and recovering from prostate cancer. Alphonso, it’s a pleasure to have you. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Alphonso Archer

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here, Clare. I’m looking forward to it.

Clare Delmar

Why don’t we just start by you telling us what your personal experience with prostate cancer has been like?

Alphonso Archer

Well, first of all, I knew nothing about prostate cancer as a young person in his 20s or even 30s. And my sister told me that my father had some treatment and she mentioned it was prostate cancer, but my father never told me about that. So I think there was something wrong with him. I was away at university and so on, and he had some treatment and apparently it was successful. I say apparently because he’s now passed away, so I’ve never had a chance to even ask him about it. But when I learned about that… I’m the kind of person that I like to know everything about my health. And I read stuff. So I started to investigate to learn more about prostate cancer. And as a black person, I discovered I was totally shocked, actually, when I found out that in the UK, one in eight men will get prostate cancer, but then learned that it was one in four black men.

Clare Delmar

Yes.

Alphonso Archer

And that kind of made me really set up as a black person because it was just such a glaring disparity in that statistic.

Clare Delmar

Indeed.

Alphonso Archer

So I started to do a lot of reading, and I found some really interesting stuff in the UK and in the US about I was trying to understand why, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. But then I, just bringing it back to me. I went to the doctor and said, Look, I’d like to have a PSA test from what I read. And my doctor, I’m very friendly with my doctor, but he kind of said, Look, Alphonso, you’re young, you’re fit. And he actually pushed back on me having a PSA test.

Clare Delmar

So, Alphonso, can we just jump in here? How old were you when you had that conversation?

Alphonso Archer

With my doctor? I must have been literally just coming into my 50s. Just turned around about 50.

Clare Delmar

Okay.

Alphonso Archer

Something around about that age. And he kind of pushed back. And then I pushed back on him and said, well, actually, from my reading, this is actually scary because my father had it.

Clare Delmar

Yes.

Alphonso Archer

And from what I’ve read, it says that family history is significant. So he conceded and I had a PSA test, and that was all normal. And then I proceeded to then over the years just literally keep having a check every year. And then I think I got to 54. The PSA level started to go up. And again, my doctor said, look, don’t worry, you’re still within the range of normality here.

Clare Delmar

Again, Alphonso, when you said they started to go up, you are getting them every year. Is that correct?

Alphonso Archer

Yes, that’s right. Once a year.

Clare Delmar

Okay.

Alphonso Archer

And then it started to rise, and then kind of said, well, let’s check it every six months. So we did that and it still continued to rise. And then one day the test came through and it was slightly above the range for my age, but it was showing abnormal. And then again, my doctor, he was like, oh, it’s only slightly abnormal. Let’s leave it for another six months. And I just stopped. I said, look, no, I said, I.m really getting concerned here and again, I kept pointing back to what I read about black men. And I insisted that he referred me to a urologist, which he did. And then I saw the urologist. And then I had the dreaded DRE. I’d already had a DRE with my doctor, the digital rectal examination, which most men dread. But I just kind of thought, you know what, I’m just going to endure this one. And so I had the same checks with my urologist, and they found nothing untoward and the same results. And the urologist even said to me, said, look, found nothing abnormal with your prostate. And then he started telling me about the biopsy, which I’d already known about, read about it. But he was telling me how unpleasant it was. And I felt kind of just putting me off to delay it a little bit because of the unpleasantries of the biopsy. But I said, no. I said, look, I’ll go through with it just for peace of mind. And that’s what happened. I had the biopsy.

Clare Delmar

Okay, well, I’m jumping in again here, but were you not imaged? Did you not have an MRI scan?

Alphonso Archer

That’s really interesting that you asked me that. So back then, and I learned after that there was such things as MPMRIs etc. Sorry, I was imaged, but I didn’t have a multi parametric imaging. It was a conventional imaging, and that didn’t show anything on the normal MRI. And then it was from the biopsy how I was diagnosed. I wasn’t diagnosed through conventional MRI. The biopsy showed that I had prostate cancer, and fortunately, because I caught it early, it was Gleason six, which is the early stages. So we had the discussion around active surveillance, and I started to understand what that meant. Watchful waiting is another term that is used. So that’s what I chose to do. We actively just saw what happened over a period of a year. So that was in 2016, I went through a whole year, 2016, active surveillance. And then in 2017, my PSA had jumped. I had another biopsy, and that showed me to be at Gleason seven. And then that’s when suddenly it started to get serious in my mind. And then suddenly, I guess the whole world of confusion opened up with all the plethora of options and treatment. And I was actually being told by a surgeon, he was saying, look, what do you want to do? Your PSA has gone up, your Gleason score’s now at seven. And you kind of get that whole feeling of your world kind of caving in, my gosh, what am I going to do about this? And the consultant, who was a surgeon was kind of saying, well, Alphonso, you’re young, you’re 50, you’re mid 50s.

Clare Delmar

Yeah.

Alphonso Archer

And I said, what would you do? And he said, well, and literally was that kind of whip it out kind of really. And I wasn’t psychologically ready for that. I knew that was the ultimate radical option would be to do that, but psychologically, I just was not ready for that. And I said to him, no, I’m not. I said, well, I really don’t want to do that. I’d rather look at other options. And I’d already done all this reading. So I was asking him about this. I saw stuff around brachytherapy and then looked at hormone therapy. So he referred me to the right team to talk about that. And that made more sense for me because it felt right. I’m happy to go through with the hormones. I knew the downside would be menopausal-like things, potential erectile dysfunction, etc. But I felt that, okay, I’ll do the hormones. And then I was referred for 20 days of radiotherapy. Because I work in teaching now. I thought, well, I can actually plan and let’s do this in the summer when I’ve got six, seven weeks holiday. And that was the chosen route that I went down. I had the hormone treatment was horrible in terms of erectile dysfunction, low moods. It just hits you over a period of a month or so. For me, suddenly I just feeling very flat, kind of really hard to get myself going. And that’s the hormones, that reduction in your testosterone…

Clare Delmar

Exactly

Alphonso Archer

…causing all kinds of psychological effects, which is quite depressing, really, in terms of having a body that has been very fit, very active, and brain that thinks a million miles an hour suddenly it just felt really lethargic and constant hot flushes and things like that. And then the actual radiotherapy having to the way you have to prepare with drinking a pint of water because you need, et cetera, et cetera, going through that whole preparation. And then when the treatment starts, suddenly you’re kind of losing control of your pelvic area and you literally rushing to get to the loo, get off the table, you’re just bursting to go. All those challenges, it was kind of dehumanising, really, and quite a difficult thing to go through.

Clare Delmar

And where are you now? We’re now four or five years on from that.

Alphonso Archer

In a great place. After the treatment, I was on a three month PSA cycle of testing every three months and reporting back. And after the first three months, that was fine. My PSA levels had dropped to zero point one. And then there was a bounce. They call it the bounce effect. And actually my PSA went back up to three point something. And there was a lot of concern from the team there. But then they talked about this bounce after the radiation, then after the next three months, check, the levels drop right back down again. And I’ve been having three monthly checks, but I’m now on six monthly cycle because my PSA stayed constantly low. And I had a last check last week and it’s still 0.1, but it’s great, so it’s really stable. I’m not on any medication. All my functions have returned. I’m in a great place.

Clare Delmar

Well, you sound it and that’s great, but you’ve also been extremely honest and very hopefully so about the emotional and mental and psychological ride you’ve had to go through to get to this spot. So tell me a little bit about how music has been. I don’t even want to use the word comfort because that almost demeans it, how it’s been such an integral part of this process.

Alphonso Archer

Yeah, music has been huge because I’ve been a musician since a very young child and learned to play piano and guitar. I was in Church when I learned music and then becoming a musician myself, I just continued to use music for me. My father died of schizophrenia when I was very young. So we had a lot of traumatic experiences as children with a father that was violent. So for me, even back as a young child, music was a safe haven for me, a way to close out the noise in my life, in a family home, et cetera. So it meant a lot to me. And so when I went through my prostate cancer treatment, I found that in that summer when I was having treatment, I kind of made some radical decisions around where I thought, well, I’m not going to die immediately, but I thought, you know what? I want to do something with my music. So during that treatment, during that summer, I actually started doing a lot more. I started writing songs. I started working on an album that I’ve always wanted to work on but never felt compelled or motivated to start it. But going through that whole treatment, I was suddenly writing songs and using music a lot more to access my emotions around what I was going through. And I found it easy for me to get those feelings out. Sometimes words are difficult.

Clare Delmar

Indeed.

Alphonso Archer

And music kind of helping me just to, I guess, get to that unconscious place really that words just couldn’t do.

Clare Delmar

So then how did you make the transition to sharing that with other I know you work with children and now you’re working with men with prostate cancer. That’s another big leap and a really wonderful one. How did that come about?

Alphonso Archer

When I got my diagnosis, I was a salesman selling software, corporate software, and doing pretty well in that world. But when I got my first degree, that was in ’85 when I graduated, it was a degree in sociology, psychology. And I worked for a few years as a welfare officer, using, I guess, that degree a little bit and working with people, working with young men and women that have been put on demand. And if they were actually not sent down, then I helped them to find services, access to housing, and things like that. I really enjoyed that work, but then I wanted to make money, so I became a salesman. Whilst the work was rewarding financially, I didn’t feel that kind of. I don’t know. There’s no altruism in that work for me anyway. And I think that when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, I decided I looked at my whole life and thought, you know what? I’m not actually enjoying this job. And just through my reconnection with music on, I guess a deeper, more spiritual level, it was like a light bulb turning on. And I thought, you know what? I want music to be part of my life in a bigger way. That was it. I gave up my job as a sales director for a small software company. As it happened, it was a new job, so I was on probation. At the end of the three months, I decided it wasn’t for me and set up a music business originally to teach. And that’s what I started doing, teaching music, set my studio up at home, and then just through contacts, I managed to end up, I ended up working in a school with children with autism. It was a new school. I helped them set up music. I was using music to work with children with autism and just made loads of discoveries. I knew nothing about music therapy at the time, but I was working with children that were selectively mute, for example. And after three months, one young girl started singing. Her parents had never heard her sing, and she just suddenly started singing in my session. And we shared that, the teacher shared it with their parents, and it was like a miracle.

Clare Delmar

Wow.

Alphonso Archer

And then there were so many stories starting to evolve with all these different children, these wonderful children. And then that’s how one day someone came in who was a music therapist, and they said to me, Alphonso, what you’re doing is music therapy. And I went, really? So I started to look into that, and that’s how I ended up. I thought, you know, what? If I’m kind of being called a music therapist, which is a clinical licensed term, I thought I might as well go and study. And that’s what I did.

Clare Delmar

Amazing story. Tell us a little bit about the dissertation you’re doing, and this is your opportunity to shout out to people about participating in it, I think. What are you expecting to do and how are you expecting to help them through your musicianship?

Alphonso Archer

As a student music therapist, having worked with children with autism, and I’ve worked in hospitals with clients with bipolar or schizophrenia or emotional trauma related to abuse, whether it’s sexual abuse or physical, verbal abuse and all the traumas that arise from that. I’ve learned in a clinical way how music can help people access these psychosocial challenges, emotional dysregulation and psychological distress. So I thought that now in my third year, it’s time to do my dissertation. It was really just glaringly obvious to me. I wanted to look at how do black men in particular, I thought I’d focus on black men because of the disparities around prostate cancer for black men. And I think, let’s look at how do black men use recorded music and song choices to process the impact of their prostate cancer. From just belonging to some prostate cancer support groups. And one is a black support group. And what the research shows is that African Caribbean men, they struggle with the side effects of prostate cancer linked to these socially constructed ideas of masculinity and in addition, link to things around erectile dysfunction and all these stereotypes around black male sexuality and then link that with prostate cancer. I thought, well, let’s look at how music is potentially help these men and help black men to process some of these challenges, even if it wasn’t through formal music therapy. But it could just be someone just putting on a song or whether it’s the motivation to go through their treatment or just to help with psychological distress. And that’s what my dissertation is about, just looking for participants.

Clare Delmar

Oh, wonderful. Are they actually talking to you about that? Are they able to express how that process is actually unfolding?

Alphonso Archer

Well, I’m literally just at the beginning. I’m at the stage of the participant recruitment. So literally I’ve got a link that I’m sending out now to support groups and to people that can share that link for people to participate.

Clare Delmar

Okay, you’ll send that link to me. So I’ll put that in the program notes for this interview, and I guess one other question is, is there a link to your own music that our listeners can access on any of the music platforms? Is that possible?

Alphonso Archer

Yeah, absolutely. I mean I’ve got my music. I just literally put my music out there on Spotify. I just wrote a whole bunch of songs and I’m a musician so everything on there I play and I just use voices of people that can sing. I wrote this album actually I called it Formula for Life because at the time of being diagnosed with prostatectomy cancer, literally within a month of that as well I discovered that I had a condition called an AVM, an arteriovenous malformation on my brain that I again discovered purely by just being a bit persistent with my doctor. So I had treatment for that as well. So I wrote this album. I called Formula for Life because they gave me a formula for the chances of me having a brain haemorrhage which made me decide to have this treatment for this AVM.

Clare Delmar

Wow.

Alphonso Archer

That’s why I called the album Formula for life basically.

Clare Delmar

Amazing. Well, we’ll have the links for your own music, for the Formula for Life album and for the call out to participants in your dissertation research. How inspiring. What an opportunity and an absolute joy to have you here to talk to me today. Thank you so much, Alphonso.

Alphonso Archer

You know, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you very much for inviting me.

Clare Delmar

And we’ll follow up hopefully in six months we might have a lot more sort of interesting feedback from the participants from your study. I will look forward to that.

Alphonso Archer

Thank you very much.

Clare Delmar

A transcript of this interview and the links we discussed to Alphonso’s music and his research study will be available in the programme notes on our website along with further information on diagnostics and treatment for prostate cancer. Also, additional interviews and stories about living with prostate cancer are available. Please visit www.thefocaltherapyclinic.co.uk and follow us on Twitter and Facebook at the The Focal Therapy Clinic. Thanks so much for listening and from me, Claire Delmar. See you next time.

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