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Sylvester Cancer Support Services Providers Share Latest Work at APOS Conference

The 19th American Psychosocial Oncology Society Conference had a strong showing from the Cancer Support Services providers at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Nine topics were presented by various providers and faculty members covering crucial areas in the field, such as disparities in emotional well-being.

APOS Conference
Sylvester Cancer Support Services providers attending the virtual APOS Conference.

Highlighted by this year’s theme Moving Forward Together: Achieving Equity in Psychosocial Oncology, the annual conference serves as a platform for presenting and sharing the latest in psychosocial oncology — a cancer specialty that addresses the variety of psychological, behavioral, emotional, and social issues that arise for cancer patients and their loved ones.

Frank J. Penedo, Ph.D.
Frank J. Penedo, Ph.D.,

“Members of our Cancer Support Services team had a very strong presence in the annual scientific meeting of the American Psycho-oncology Society,” said Frank J. Penedo, Ph.D., Sylvester’s associate director for Cancer Survivorship and Translational Behavioral Sciences.

“This is a highly visible and flagship society for work in supportive care and psychosocial oncology, and I am thrilled that we were able to showcase the critical work our teams are conducting.”

Addressing Health Inequality

Maria Rueda-Lara, M.D., medical director of psycho-oncology and assistant professor of psychiatry at Sylvester, presented her research topic “Psychiatric Symptoms Masking Craniopharyngiomas in African American Patients.”

Maria Rueda-Lara, M.D.
Maria Rueda-Lara, M.D.

Dr. Rueda-Lara’s presentation focused on how cancer care inequities in specific populations can lead to a greater cancer burden in Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) compared to white Americans. Her research addresses how racial and ethnic minorities, mainly African Americans, have delayed diagnosis and treatment for underlying tumors due providers’ focus on psychiatric symptoms rather than on co-morbid medical signs of cancer. This misguidance partly accounts to African Americans having the highest death rates among all racial or ethnic groups for most cancers.

“As a Latin psychiatrist I am interested in effectively treating minority patients by improving cancer care delivery of these group of patients and better understanding the role of psychiatric symptoms in the presence of cancer,” Dr. Rueda-Lara said. “The ultimate goal is to achieve the best possible health outcomes for everyone, regardless of the race or ethnicity of patients and doctors.”

In addition to her presentation, Dr. Rueda-Lara won the Top Clinical Poster Award for “Psychiatric Symptoms Masking Craniopharyngiomas in African American Patients.” 

Music in Action

Mary Kauffman, DMA
Mary Kauffman, D.M.A.

Mary Kauffman, D.M.A., and music therapist leader at Sylvester, presented “Music Therapy: Accessible and Inclusive Tools in Cancer Survivorship.” The presentation used multicultural case studies to highlight music therapy interventions as an alternative to medications to aid in anxiety reduction, mood enhancement, and attention and concentration improvement.

Dr. Kauffman emphasized how the use of patient-preferred musical genres and languages can facilitate engagement and improve adherence, while the use of readily available music sources ensures that the interventions are accessible to all.

“The universal language of music provides a safe space for emotional processing, coping, benefit-finding, and post-traumatic growth, factors that have all been associated with better quality of life in cancer survivors,” Dr. Kauffman said.

Isolation Tools
Zelde Espinel, M.D.
Zelde Espinel, M.D.

Zelde Espinel, M.D., assistant professor at the Miller School, presented a poster entitled “Decreasing Loneliness and Social Isolation during the COVID Pandemic Using Cancer Support Services: Case Study of a Geriatric Patient with Diffuse Large B-cell Lymphoma.”

The case study demonstrated how cancer support services assisted a patient diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) cope throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Espinel and her team summarized clinical encounters and charted a review for an 88-year-old female patient for whom perceived social isolation and loneliness were exacerbated due to the interaction of her cancer diagnosis, COVID-19 distancing, the inability of vaccination to produce immunity to COVID-19, and diminution of her social network due to aging.

“We showed how despite being restricted to her home, regular interaction with her support services team — and attentive care from her son — decreased feelings of loneliness and allowed for this patient to remain socially connected,” Dr. Espinel said.

Art in Mental Health

Elia Khalaf, M.A., LMHC ATR
Elia Khalaf, M.A., LMHC ATR

Elia Khalaf, M.A., LMHC ATR, licensed psychotherapist, and registered art therapist at Sylvester presented his poster “Art Therapy: Inclusive Mental Health Support for Diverse Populations in Oncology.”

This presentation used case studies to highlight art therapy as a culturally inclusive and integrative mental health treatment modality for diverse populations experiencing anxiety, depression, and cancer-related challenges.

Khalaf explained how the art therapy literature strongly suggests that cancer patients and survivors benefit from art therapy treatment by attenuating negative feelings, improving coping, and fostering growth.

“The case studies illustrate how art therapy provides inclusive and affirming support through multicultural competence skills and online interventions,” Khalaf said. “The purpose of this poster was to present the findings of art therapy treatment with LGBTQIA, BIPOC, and Hispanic populations in oncology.”

Tags: APOS, Dr. Frank Penedo, Dr. Maria Rueda-Lara, Dr. Zelde Espinel, Psychosocial Oncology, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center