Gabriela Ilie, PhD, is currently the DMRF (Dalhousie Research Medical Foundation) Endowed Scientist in Prostate Cancer Quality of Life Research, and Associate Professor at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada. Born and raised in Romania she became a popular radio star as a young teen, then a national TV news host at age 19. She emigrated to Belgium at age 20 working for the European Commission, then to Canada at age 23 (very successful in telecommunications). Gabriela then completed her undergraduate and PhD (effect of music on emotions) in Toronto in a record time of four years. Her university teaching career began before she had her doctorate, and in 16 years taught over 90 statistics and diverse psychology and epidemiology courses at the University of Toronto to over 25,000 students. She was nominated as TVO’s lecturer of the year twice. At the same time, her research career flourished, working with neurosurgeons and other scientists, and supervising many graduate students. She published seminal papers in top journal showing concussions lead to long-term cognitive and social problems especially in teens.
In 2016 Gabriela accepted a position in Halifax addressing the unmet needs in prostate cancer survivors (a topic she knew nothing about). On the first day of the job she attended a local support group to learn first hand about the effect of prostate cancer on the men’s lives. She recruited ‘Research Citizens’ from this group, the true experts in PC quality of life who to this day continue to inform her programs. Working closely with Urologists and PC specialists (Dr. Rutledge joins her team here), she developed and administered an online quality of life survey, which has been completed by over 500 Eastern Canadian men. The results were shocking – men surviving prostate cancer have twice the risk of depression and anxiety than men without cancer (and even compared to men survivors of other types of cancer). While publishing these results, Gabriela’s team began to create an intervention to address the unmet needs – thus the Prostate
Cancer Patient Empowerment Program (PC-PEP) was born. (see PCPEP.org for more).
The one-month version of PC-PEP was tested in 2019 on 30 men to prove it was safe and feasible. Not only that, the mental health of the men improved, they lost weight on average, had fewer side effects, and endorsed the program at a rate of 9.4 out of 10. Next Gabriela’s team designed a six-month version of PC-PEP (very similar to Cancer PEP), and accrued 128 men scheduled for curative PC surgery or radiotherapy to this randomized trial through 2020. Gabriela and Rob filmed the 3-5 minute PEP videos in their kitchen every day for six months, and continue to join the men in a monthly zoom conference. The randomized trial proved the program improves mental health (and more) in men scheduled for curative treatment at 6 and 12 months later. PC-PEP is now being expanded across Canada and abroad.
Gabriela also continues to play a vital role in supervising multiple epidemiology and psychology graduate students and urology residents here at Dalhousie University- the future scientists who will continue to prove that empowering cancer patients from the time of diagnosis not only improve physical and mental health but increases that the chance they will recover from cancer.
“I’m so excited to be able to work on CancerPEP and offer a program that makes a real difference on people’s lives. When I look back on my life, it’s as if everything I did has put me on a trajectory to be in a position where I can do this work. I am so excited to also be working with my husband and be able to apply our diverse expertise to this program. Since PC-PEP showed improved mental and physical health in the lives of men who attended the program we had hoped we could one day adopt it to be available to all cancer patients. We are excited to be also working from ground up to developing Breast PEP (a program specifically tailored to breast cancer patients).”
Rob Rutledge, MD FRCPC has been a Radiation Oncologist specializing in breast, prostate and pediatric cancer for 26 years, and is an Associate Professor at Dalhousie University. Growing up in northern Canada he went to school in Toronto for undergraduate and medical school, and Ottawa for his residency. Though he loves the work he does every day, his passion has been empowering people affected by cancer at levels of body, mind and spirit, and teaching them to get the best care from the medical system. He has closely followed the burgeoning science that our healthy lifestyle behaviours and healing techniques can have a profound influence on our bodies and cancer outcomes – and is intrigued by the attributes of remarkable cancer survivors
(the people who do incredibly well against all odds).
After reading Love, Medicine and Miracles by Dr. Bernie Siegel, Rob partnered with a social worker in Ottawa in 1993 to offer a men’s cancer support group. Since that time he has delivered hundreds to free public talks and webinars, and led a charity organizing and leading 60 weekend retreats in 30 cities, and dozens of day-long healing seminars patients and staff.
“Meeting (and marrying!) and working with Gabriela has been so fulfilling professionally.
Gabriela has taught me so much – there is a methodology and science to teaching people to connect more deeply with their loved ones. She has such a depth and breadth of a psychology background – I really think it’s a perfect complement to my background as an Oncologist trying to empower the individual. It’s also been such a fun and meaningful journey, connecting with the men on the monthly videoconferences, getting emails every week from men who say the program has changed their lives. I’m just so grateful for the opportunity to share this with people affected by all types of cancer!”
Looking forward to seeing you soon in one of our programs or presentations!