Web-based system addresses the critical gap in care for young cancer survivors

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) – A breakthrough initiative aimed at supporting young cancer survivors who are battling depression was achieved by a psychologist here in ENC.

Psychologist and ECU assistant psychology professor, Dr. Karly Murphy was gifted a $750,000 grant by the National Cancer Institute to fund her digital system that will help provide useful tools to AYA’s (Adolescent Young Adults) who have been through cancer and suffered depression from it.

According to Dr. Murphy young adults diagnosed with cancer between the ages of 15 to 39 face very high rates of depression which often goes undiagnosed and untreated.

Dr. Murphy and her team have worked closely with some AYA’s to better understand what their needs and preferences are for a digital tool to help with depression.

“This could be a step care model for AYAs nationwide, where when an AYA reports symptoms of depression to their cancer provider or primary care provider, this is a tool that they can leave with that day and start using and learning some new skills to manage their depressive symptoms,” Dr. Murphy said.

The web-based system will be called “ASCENT” and focus on behavioral activation, to motivate and encourage along with cognitive restructuring which helps turn negative thoughts into positive ones.

“Through my own personal experiences, I can go through shifts very quickly, one moment I will be perfectly fine and the next it’s really hitting me like I have cancer. It’s hard to even think about or even connect it with myself so having something right there that I could use would be great,” ECU student, Madison Schmidt said.

According to Dr. Murphy, this tool could be integrated into the healthcare journey, offering support alongside treatments such as medication or therapy.

“Honestly I think it would be very beneficial for anyone diagnosed with cancer just because sometimes it can seem very isolating,” Schmidt said.

Dr. Murphy said that trials will take place this year.