CAPO Digest

CAPO Digests are summaries of recent psychosocial oncology research which have published in peer-reviewed journals in and out of the main psychosocial oncology outlets that may be of interest to CAPO members. We hope you enjoy these Digests. If you are interested in submitting a CAPO Digest please contact the CAPO office at s[email protected].

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  • 15 Aug 2018 1:44 PM | Brandon Davenport

    Wenger, L. (2013). Moving through illness with Strong Backs and Soft Fronts: A substantive theory of men’s help-seeking during cancer.  Men and Masculinities, 16, 517-539.

    Journal Website:

    In recent years, we have begun to understand men’s responses to prostate cancer and its treatment in order to provide psychosocial support. However, men experience a wide range of other types of cancer. When it comes to these other types of cancer, we often assume that men and women respond to a cancer diagnosis in similar ways and need similar types of support.   In Dr. Lisa Wenger’s recent publication, she turns this assumption on its head. Drawing on a growing body of knowledge constructing health and illness as opportunities for gendered practices, she asks how men navigate the disruptions to life and identity that are triggered by a diagnosis of cancer. Based on in-depth interviews with 30 men, ranging in age from 30 to early 80s with a range of cancer diagnoses, she details patterns of help-seeking using the metaphor of “strong backs” and “soft fronts.”  Dr. Wenger explains that, in line with hegemonic masculinities, men present themselves as strong, stoic and brave. So for the men in her study, the “strong back” approach felt natural and they were comfortable with clinicians and family who wanted to support them in recovering who they were. However, difficulties were often experienced as the men confronted losses, uncertainties and the profound disruptions to their identity. These difficulties were related to their discomforts in expressing vulnerability and resistance to identity changes, and the lack of responsiveness of our health system to men’s emotional pain.  Dr. Wenger explains that we have been pretty good at “strong back” supports to help men hold onto familiar selves by focusing on information, stress management and healthy living. She encourages us to ask how we are addressing men’s “soft front” needs and challenges us to develop innovative approaches that assist men in balancing “strong backs” and “soft fronts” as they learn to live with cancer.

    Why I like this article:  The article provides a new window into men’s experiences of a range of cancers and raises questions about how cancer supports should be designed for men. I think the rich descriptions of men’s experiences in balancing “strong backs” and “soft fronts” as they confront cancer hold great potential in increasing our ability to be gender aware in our interactions with men with cancer.  The time has come to recognize the limits of a one-size-fits-all approach to psychosocial oncology.

    Prepared by Dr. Joan Bottorff

  • 15 Aug 2018 1:44 PM | Brandon Davenport

    Moorey, S. (2013). “I know they are distressed. What do I do now?” Psycho-Oncology,22, 1946-1952.

    Journal Website:

    Author Website:

    Stirling Moorey has been at the forefront of psychotherapy research in palliative cancer care, and he is particularly known for his work in cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). In this personal perspective, Moorey describes the evolution of psychotherapy research in oncology as a movement through three phases. The first consisted of identifying the prevalence of psychosocial problems and the corresponding need for interventions. The second, which is still in early stages but is making great strides, has tested treatment protocols derived from mental health research, as well as those developed specifically within cancer care. The third phase has to do with the dissemination of effective interventions, which in a Canadian context would be known as knowledge translation. Like other guidelines for screening and intervening with distress, including CAPO’s own depression guideline, Moorey proposes a stepped-care approach for people who have psychological problems of differing severity. Some basic communication skills should be part of the training of all professionals, but brief psychotherapy, internet, and telephone counselling have a place for providers with additional expertise. Patients with the most serious difficulties should be seen by team members with some specialization in mental health.

    Importantly, Moorey introduces the concept of “first aid CBT,” which comprises a core set of therapeutic techniques for defining and explaining problems, devising simple behavioural experiments, and applying time-limited problem-solving. In Moorey’s opinion, this type of approach can be implemented by various members of the treatment team, and is even applicable in palliative care. Moorey, a psychiatrist, then describes the success of his own recent research in training nurses in the model.

    Why I like this article: The tone of this paper is one of thoughtful reflection as it provides a personal overview of the literature; it is not intended to be a rigorously scientific systematic review. However, it outlines a sensible and practical way to conceptualize how to intervene with distressed patients. Since CBT is currently the predominant form of psychotherapy in the community generally, there is a place for more clinicians in cancer care to have a basic sense of how it works and how it can be applied to their patients. First aid CBT is probably a concept whose time has come.

    Prepared by Dr. Keith Wilson

  • 10 Aug 2018 3:55 PM | Brandon Davenport

    Digest Commentators:

    Amanda Wurz, ACSM-CPT, MSc, PhD candidate, University of Ottawa
    Anika Petrella, RP, MA, PhD candidate, University of Toronto

    Digest Editor: Mary Ann O’Brien, PhD, Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of Toronto

    Evidence for why exercise and physical activity is important for individuals diagnosed with cancer is well established. However, pervasive uncertainty remains about how to connect this population to relevant services and resources (i.e., who should be involved/responsible and where to refer to). To address this gap, Santa Mina et al. (2018) proposed a model or pathway that goes beyond the what and systematically delineates how individuals diagnosed with cancer can be engaged in exercise programming and physical activity promotion. In addition, the authors tackle an existing barrier related to the lack of knowledge surrounding accessible services and resources by describing what is currently available across North America.

    The proposed pathway is depicted visually and described utilizing empirical evidence and clinical knowledge. At the beginning of the pathway are healthcare providers (e.g., oncologists, family physician, nurses, psychologists, social workers), who are described as playing a critical role in enhancing access to exercise programming and physical activity promotion resources for individuals diagnosed with cancer. Following this, the pathway forks to illustrate the parallel steps for exercise engagement (i.e., referral to a qualified exercise professional and screening/risk stratification) and/or physical activity promotion.

    Notably, Santa Mina et al. (2018) adopt a person-centred approach considering facilitators and barriers faced by individuals diagnosed with cancer, acknowledge the entire healthcare team by emphasizing a shared model of responsibility, and incorporate services (e.g., exercise programming) alongside self-management and behaviour change resources (e.g., online education). Thus, the emergent model is amenable to modification based on the individual and context. Finally, the authors flag areas requiring further attention/clarification (e.g., exploring home-based exercise programming) and conclude by encouraging future investigation of the applicability and economic sustainability of the pathway.

    Why we liked this article: First, the pathway was developed by a team of leading experts in the field of exercise, physical activity, rehabilitation, and cancer survivorship and represents an important step to bridging the gap between what to do (i.e., recommend/refer individuals diagnosed with cancer to exercise/physical activity) and how to do it (i.e., specific steps, guidance, and access to resources). Second, the authors clearly underscore that individuals diagnosed with cancer are not static throughout survivorship. As such, a non-prescriptive approach, acknowledging potential fluctuations in health status, changes in self-motivation and empowerment, and differing needs with regards to addressing barriers over time was adopted. The fluidity and flexibility inherent in this model have the potential to significantly impact the wellbeing of individuals from cancer diagnosis onward across a variety of contexts.

    Citation: Santa Mina D, Sabiston C, Au D, Fong AJ, Capozzi LC, Langelier D, Chasen M, Chiarotto J, Tomasone J, Jones J, Chang E, & Culos-Reed SN. (2018). Connecting people with cancer to physical activity and exercise programs: a pathway to create accessibility and engagement. Current Oncology, 25(2):149-162.

    Journal website:

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