What are your current research interests and/or what is a project you are currently working on?
My research interests are focused on exploring the complex interplay among cancer-related symptoms and their biological underpinnings to develop self-management interventions targeting distressing symptoms. My population focus has primarily been hematological cancers, specifically hematopoietic cell transplant (HCT) recipients. Currently, I am the PI on a funded R21 from the National Institutes of Health (R21NR017749) examining the relationships among inflammation, gut microbiota and psychoneurologic symptoms (pain, depression, anxiety, fatigue and cognitive dysfunction) following HCT.
Who or what has inspired you to pursue this career?
Having been clinically involved with cancer patients at the bedside and in the clinics, patients commonly expressed that they would feel much more likely to succeed with their treatments and could better cope if they could manage their symptoms. Many patients felt out of control when they could not manage their fatigue or would become anxious about their mental status because they were more forgetful than usual. I just felt there must be a way to help cancer survivors manage symptoms, so I returned to school and got my Ph.D. in symptom science.
Why did you decide to focus on cancer?
I focus on cancer because it is a major health epidemic. In 2018, there were an estimated 17.3 million NEW cases of cancer diagnosed in the United States and over $147 billion health care spent. Though considered a disease of aging, cancer really doesn’t discriminate. It is opportunistic and a blight on society. I want to help people manage their symptoms and live longer and with a higher quality of life throughout their cancer experience.
What do you want to achieve with your work and/or in your career?
I want to discover interventions that can target the biological pathways of distressing symptoms to improve survivorship outcomes and quality of life at all phases throughout the cancer trajectory.
What excites you about your work?
What doesn’t excite me about my work? One of the most exciting things about my work is the synergy from working around such awesome people. When a new idea starts to percolate and the teamwork begins, there is a lot of energy and excitement. Getting word that your project is funded is exciting because you know you will be able to get the research done and are one step closer to making a difference for someone in need. Conducting research and participant involvement is also exciting because you get to connect with the end-users of what you are trying to accomplish. This is truly a remarkable career, and I am so fortunate to be living this life.
What do you like to do outside of work?
Outside of work, I like to travel and read (with a great glass of wine or hot cocoa). I enjoy the cinema and theater. I get energy from being in nature and quiet time but above all, I love spending time with my family.