A Memorial researcher is among the first winners of a lucrative award from that recognizes her leading-edge work for cancer survivors.
Dr. Sheila Garland, a clinical psychologist and associate professor, psychology, Faculty of Science, who is cross-appointed to the Discipline of Oncology, Faculty of Medicine, is among 15 inaugural recipients of the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) Emerging Scholar Award.
Valued at $120,000 per year, the award is tenable for five years.
Dr. Garland is developing an app to help cancer survivors overcome insomnia.
“Providing top-quality cancer survivorship care and research in Newfoundland and Labrador is not easy because of the specific challenges that our province faces by virtue of our geography,” Dr. Garland told the Gazette during a recent interview.
“With this funding, we can better reach the growing cohort of cancer survivors by creatively adapting usual in-person insomnia treatment strategies and take advantage of new technology to reach more people.”
Dr. Garland says smartphone apps have been used to treat insomnia in people without cancer but nothing has been made for cancer survivors who – because of other cancer side effects – need a specialized program.
“The goal of this project is to work with people who have experienced cancer to build and test a smartphone app called iCANSleep, using well-established cognitive behavioural therapy techniques.”
Dr. Garland’s collaborators on the project include Dr. Josh Rash, assistant professor, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Science; Dr. Veeresh Gadag, professor of biostatistics, Faculty of Medicine; and Dr. Yvonne Leung, assistant professor, University of Toronto.
As director of the Sleep, Health and Wellness Lab at Memorial, Dr. Garland leads cutting-edge studies focused on ways to improve the lives of people impacted by cancer in Newfoundland and Labrador and beyond.
“I will have the opportunity to build my leadership skills with mentorship from a powerhouse team of accomplished women.”
She says the CCS award will allow her to spend time working closely with research colleagues and training the next generation of leaders.
“With this award, I will have the opportunity to build my leadership skills with mentorship from a powerhouse team of accomplished women, including Dr. Christine Chambers (Dalhousie), Dr. Aimée Surprenant (Memorial), Dr. Mary Jane Esplen (University of Toronto) and Dr. Jennifer Stinson (University of Toronto).”
‘Prevent and treat insomnia’
According to Dr. Garland, close to 60 per cent of people treated for cancer experience insomnia.
“We are investing in the next generation of researchers to accelerate change in preventing cancers.”
Patients most often report that their insomnia began with, or followed, their cancer diagnosis, and that the effects of poor sleep were more overwhelming than the effects of cancer treatment.
“The annual indirect costs associated with insomnia-related absenteeism and presenteeism in Canada are estimated at $970.6 million, and $5.0 billion, respectively, Dr. Garland says.
“This translates into an annual per-person cost of $5,010 for individuals with insomnia, compared to $421 for good sleepers when direct and indirect costs are taken into account. I am committed to understanding how we can best prevent and treat insomnia and other psychological side effects of cancer in order for people to live their best life with or beyond cancer.”
Next generation support
The CCS Emerging Scholar Award supports promising early career scientists and clinician scientists from across the country who are undertaking critical cancer research.
“Supporting promising young cancer researchers today is crucial to ensuring that we continue to drive progress against cancer tomorrow and in the decades to come,” said Dr. Judy Bray, vice-president, research, at CCS.
“That’s why, thanks to our supporters, we are investing in the next generation of researchers to accelerate change in preventing cancers and helping people with and beyond cancer live longer, fuller lives.”