Swim Across America Events Help Fund Research for Young Cancer Survivors

During a child’s cancer therapy and recovery process, insomnia can often be viewed as only a side effect in the scope of treatment-related symptoms.

However, there are many physical and psychological implications that develop when a child does not sleep well, says Eric Zhou, PhD, a clinical psychology fellow in Dana-Farber’s David B. Perini, Jr. Quality of Life Clinic.

Zhou, who is also a research fellow at Harvard Medical School, has spent the last year studying treatments for insomnia in adolescent and young adult cancer survivors through Dana-Farber’s Swim Across America Fellowship.

“Insomnia in adolescent and young adult survivors is an issue that clinicians will tell you goes undertreated,” Zhou says.

Eric Zhou, PhD

Zhou’s two-year fellowship at Dana-Farber is funded through the annual Swim Across America events at Boston Harbor, Nantasket Beach, and Harvard University. This year, the three events aim to raise more than $200,000, and a portion of those proceeds will continue benefit Dana Farber’s Perini Family Survivors’ Center and the Swim Across America Fellowship.

The 2013 events kicked off on April 7 with the America Making Waves Team Relay Swim. The 20th annual Boston Harbor 22-mile relay swim will take place this Friday, July 12, and the 18th annual DCR Nantasket Beach one-mile and half-mile swims will take place Saturday, July 13.

In addition to research on insomnia, the money raised through the Swim Across America events allows Zhou to study other areas of cancer survivorship, including suicidal ideation in prostate cancer survivors and sexual dysfunction among young cancer survivors.

The fellowship has also provided time for Zhou to meet with more than 150 patients in the Perini Center, the Sexual Health Clinic, and the Stop & Shop Family Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Outcomes Clinic at Dana-Farber.

“These are patients that may not have had the opportunity to meet with a psychologist to discuss a variety of psycho-social needs,” Zhou says. “[These discussions] give these individuals the opportunity and space to understand that survivorship means more than just being cancer free.”

Now that the first year of the fellowship is wrapping up, Zhou says next year’s work will focus on bringing his insomnia research and pilot treatment program to fruition.

“Being able to see a project go from my imagination to something that produces tangible results in the lives of survivors, that’s the most exciting part,” Zhou says.

The Boston Harbor Island Swim kicks off at 7 a.m. on Friday, July 12, at Rowes Wharf, behind the Boston Harbor Hotel. The DCR Nantasket Beach one-mile and half-mile swims will take place at 9 a.m. and 9:15 a.m. on Saturday, July 13, at the Mary Jeannette Murray Bathhouse in Hull, Mass. For more information, visit the Swim Across America event website.