UH Cancer Center Researcher Studies Social Support Activities For Cancer Survivors

May 10, 2021

Erin Bantum, PhD
Erin Bantum

A University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center researcher, Erin Bantum, PhD, has teamed up with groups of researchers, clinicians, and teachers to conduct numerous studies to research the positive effects of social support on cancer survivors' mental and physical well-being. Three of the more recent interventions testing the role of social-support are Wahine Hula Akala, the iCare Cancer Rehabilitation Program, and Oncology on Canvas.

Drs. Bantum and Lenora Loo, PhD (also of the UH Cancer Center), led two intervention studies of hula for breast and gynecologic cancer survivors. These six-month studies were designed as intervention trials to support health behavior change. There were 55 participants with the average age of 63 who participated in 60-minute supervised hula practice twice a week, and a 15-minute home-based hula practice three times a week.

At the conclusion of these studies, the researchers found that hula, a Polynesian dance form, could help to increase physical activity for breast cancer survivors, improve quality of life, increase vigor, and decrease levels of circulating cytokines associated with obesity and inflammation. The psychosocial benefits of the hula group activities were so positive many of the original hula study participants have continued to meet regularly after the conclusion of the study. Within the current environment they are now continuing to gather over Zoom.

The iCare Cancer Rehabilitation Program is an ongoing program, and recent published efforts examined paired versus individual exercise of female cancer patients. Female cancer patients were randomly placed into singly trained or paired groups. Paired patients were guided to exercise in close proximity, allowing them to engage in conversations or “talk story.” Dr. Bantum collaborated with lead investigators, Sheri Teranishi-Hashimoto, DPT, of the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific and Paulette Yamada, PhD, of the UH College of Education’s Kinesiology and Rehabilitation Science.

The results from this study found that paired participants reported greater benefits in quality of life, and emotional well-being, as well as a decrease of insomnia and depressive symptoms compared to exercising independently.

Oncology on Canvas (OOC) is an annual art workshop led by Patricia Nishimoto, DNS, FT, FAAN, Oncology Nurse Specialist at Tripler Army Medical Center, who was inspired by the Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical Company’s OOC. The goal is for people, actively receiving or who have completed treatment for cancer and their ʻohana, to participate in an expressive arts workshop. This workshop is held in a large room with walls covered in blank sheets of mural paper to allow spontaneous artwork. The room is filled with canvas boards, watercolor, brushes, colored pencils, refreshments, tables, and chairs. A team of investigators, including Dr. Bantum, has been looking more formally at outcomes of participation in the workshops.

Some recently published findings of their OOC work indicate that a single expressive arts workshop significantly improved mood, decreased perceived need for help, and increased task enjoyment, with continuous effects for up to 30-60 days. The OOC workshops allow oncology survivors to reflect on shared stressful experiences with family members and other survivors with similar experiences.

Not only do all three of these studies promote creative expression, physical fitness, and improve muscular function,they also allow cancer survivors to help each other change their behavior and become a network of support for each other. "It's been so inspiring to see the multiple ways communities come together, whether that is communities of researchers and health care providers or communities of people who have experienced cancer, said Dr. Bantum. Let's keep going!"