As reported by the Waterbury Republican-American, September 22, 2006.

Local Surgeon Seeks Cancer Patients for Boat Rocking Study

By Carrie Macmillan

A study led by a Waterbury surgeon is examining how the gentle rocking motions of a boat can ease stress in women with Stage III breast cancer.

Participants are sought for the feasibility study, to be conducted on Monday at a marina in Westbrook. Women can enjoy an hour of relaxation on a docked sailboat for free, followed by a half-hour seminar and light lunch.

Dr. Scott Kurtzman, director of surgery at Waterbury Hospital, is project investigator of the study, called unofficially, "Precious Passage," and officially, "Investigation of wave motion as a stress intervention method for Stage III breast cancer women."

The general idea is to quantify how wave motion therapy, or simply, time spent on a boat, helps breast cancer patients alleviate stress. The results will be compared to therapeutic massage at a later date.

A woman with Stage III breast cancer has about a 60 percent chance of lifetime survival, said Kurtzman, who is also an associate professor of surgery at UConn Health Center, and a specialist in breast cancer research.

"There is some scientific background showing that possibly in humans, but at least in animals, stress reduces the immune system," he said.

Kurtzman was recruited for the study about three years ago by Carline Lutynski, a breast cancer survivor. Lutynski, a Norwich resident, is a former engineer and NASA technical specialist. Lutynski conceived the idea of using a boat for cancer research. She is study coordinator and president of Del Function, Inc., a public charity sponsoring the research. The institutional review board of the UConn Health Center approved the study.

"It's a nice, interesting project that could help with quality of life," Kurtzman said. "It's fun and safe, and if helps people, great."

An alternate to massage

Kurtzman said the approach could work for other types of cancer and illnesses, but that breast cancer was a logical place to start.

"There are a lot of women out there with cancer who do well following surgery and radiation, but then they are left with a lot of stress and anxiety about the diagnosis," he said.

Plus, wave therapy might prove helpful to women who don't like massage or meditation techniques.

"There are many ways to skin this cat, and this just seemed like a pretty cool idea," Kurtzman said. "It's a little outside the normal realm and a little eccentric, because people in traditional medicine are not used to dealing with the emotional side of medicine. But I'd much rather treat them to a boat ride when I can. The wave motion is also reminiscent of the in-utero condition."

The boat will be docked the entire time, so that anyone who feels unsteady can easily get off. A therapist will be on board to speak with women if they wish.

"We are trying to see the effects if a person uses the boat once or uses it twice, or once a month," Lutynski said. "Some women with breast cancer, it's so hard to let people know how they feel. They put on this extremely brave front and some of them are still trying to take care of others. But this is a no-stress event, no worrying about the husband or children, or what's going to happen."

Another nonprofit, The Maritime Challenge Foundation (www.maritimechallenge.org), in Maine is also using sailing and maritime heritage as therapeutic tools to improve the emotional well-being of people with serious illnesses.

Joy Sherman, a former assistant at Yale New Haven Oncology, is captain and owner of the 35-foot sloop for the Precious Passage study. She is donating use of her vessel, HADO, for free.

"We can't say that you reduce stress and you stop the cancer," Lutynski said. "We don't know how or if it affects the immune system, but we have seen in studies that there is an increase in life span between those who did reduce stress and those who did not."

In the future, other announcements will include blood work and massage therapy. But only questionnaires will be used on Monday.

The study will take place Monday at Pilots Point Marina, North Yard, 333 Boston Post Road, Westbrook, CT. Since the boat fits a limited number of passengers, the study will be conducted in groups of four. For information, call (860) 889-3424 or visit http://precious-passage.tripod.com.  

Requirements for study:

  • Women who have stage III breast cancer;
  • are 21 or older, with no age cap;
  • are not pregnant ;
  • are able to tolerate blood work ;
  • be willing to answer survey questions ;
  • can walk unaided or with cane or walker ;
  • and are able to do single or multiple two-hour research sessions.