PhD candidate earns award for research on intimacy after colorectal cancer

Molly McCarthy, a fourth-year PhD candidate in clinical psychology at York University, was awarded the Bultz Best Student Oral Presentation award, along with a $200 cash prize, at this year’s Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology annual conference.

Molly McCarthy

Molly McCarthy

The conference ran in Toronto from May 30 to June 1 and featured the theme of “Tailored and targeted interventions: A new frontier of psychosocial interventions.”

McCarthy delivered a talk titled “A resilience oriented approach to addressing sexuality and intimacy after colorectal cancer” based on research that is currently underway for her dissertation. Her research is supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Doctoral Award.

She is a member of the Psychosocial Oncology Lab in the Department of Psychology supervised by Professor Karen Fergus.

During her talk, McCarthy described the process of developing a brief, two-session Internet-delivered intervention to support the sexual and intimate re-adjustment of couples as one partner lives with a permanent ostomy following treatment for colorectal cancer.

As sex is rarely discussed by patients and health care providers during cancer treatment, this intervention aims to open up conversations with couples about the sexual and intimate changes they have experienced while also capitalizing on their existing strengths as a couple to aid in their re-adjustment process.

The online modality affords this vulnerable subgroup of cancer patients convenient access to professionally delivered, psychosexual programming, said McCarthy.

Before undertaking a formal evaluation of the intervention, the conference presentation was meant to solicit feedback from clinicians and researchers in the field of psychosocial oncology about strategies for addressing sexual well-being in the context of cancer as well as important factors to consider when aiming to integrate sexual health interventions into standard care practice.

Fergus, said this is a “highly under-served population on a typically overlooked topic, but Molly’s study is both innovative and very timely because of recent efforts and attention being paid to sexual health and rehabilitation in cancer care at the provincial level.”

Since the presentation, McCarthy has trialed the intervention with positive feedback from couples and has officially opened recruitment to couples across Ontario. She has been accepted to present her findings this coming fall at the International Psychosocial Oncology Society World Congress in Hong Kong.

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