Calm improves the symptoms of Blood Cancer Patients (and will hopefully soon reach more)
My entire career I have tried to lead with my passion as I make decisions about what I want to research and who I have on my team. As a scientist, I know this is unorthodox. However, it’s led me to research topics that greatly help improve our participant’s quality of life. I started practicing yoga 9 years ago and soon after, I downloaded Calm. I began a more regular meditation practice and found myself enjoying the moment more, centered in the here and now.
The more I used Calm, the better I felt, and the better I felt, the more I thought I, “why am I not using this to help others?”
I work very closely with a team of hematologists that specialize in a rare form of blood cancer called myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN). MPN patients suffer severe fatigue that keeps them from participating in and enjoying daily activities. The medications for these patients don’t always work. In fact, the treatments often give patients more fatigue and unwanted side effects than the MPN itself. My partner (Dr. Ruben Mesa, Director of Cancer at the Mays Cancer Center/MD Anderson) and I began conducting studies using yoga to help MPN patients combat fatigue and improve their emotional wellness. Our first findings suggested that yoga could be a promising complementary approach. But what we noticed in the follow-up interviews, was that MPN patients attributed much of their symptom reduction to the meditative aspect of the yoga. I immediately proposed we use the Calm app to see if it might help MPN patients.
Because Calm is available to anyone, Calm could become a low-cost, easily accessible, complementary approach for physicians to prescribe to their patients.
Before we can determine the effects, however, we have to determine the feasibility; Will MPN patients enjoy Calm? Will they use Calm daily? We have to make sure that patients will engage with the app before we can test its true effects. So, the purpose of our study was to examine the feasibility of Calm and another popular meditation mobile app for MPN patients. And, of course, to examine the efficacy of smartphone-based meditation on symptoms.
We recruited participants nationally and placed them into four randomized groups.
One group received Calm, one received the other app, and the other two groups received varying instructions to use both apps. Over an eight-week period, participants were asked to perform 10-min of meditation per day. We measured participants’ satisfaction and their attendance as well as the impact on fatigue, depression, anxiety, pain intensity, sleep disturbance, sexual function, quality of life, global health, and total symptom burden.
A total of 128 patients were enrolled across all four groups, with 73.4% (94/128) patients completing the intervention.
Overall, the participants loved the Calm app!
They ranked it significantly higher than the other app in terms of enjoyment and satisfaction. They also used it over twice as much as the other app. But most importantly, the Calm app did have significant effects on reducing their anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance, and fatigue. For more a more detailed explanation of our findings you can check out the published study here.
Chronic cancer patients such as MPNs face many demands and stressors, feel overwhelmed, and are often reluctant to take on new interventions. And although many experts recommend practicing meditation, patients find it hard to attend in-person classes. Using Calm represents a novel way of bypassing these barriers to practicing meditation.
In short, the study was a huge success, and thanks to our feasibility findings, we have applied for a National Institute of Health grant to broaden our research and not only help MPN patients but more widely other hematological and chronic cancers nationwide.
I will never stop following my passion, and in collaboration with Calm, we can continue to improve the quality of life for those who need it most.