Written by Jennifer Lollar
University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing Professor and Associate Dean for Research Karen Meneses Ph.D., R.N., FAAN, did not set out to become an internationally recognized nurse scientist in cancer survivorship.
She graduated from college with the goal of being a labor and delivery nurse, but the only position she could find was on a gynecologic oncology unit where half the patients on her floor had breast or reproductive system cancers. Fortunately for the millions of cancer survivors touched by her work, the needs of that patient population resonated with her and set the course for her more than 30-year calling in education, research and service for and with cancer survivors.
In recognition of her groundbreaking research and its sustained impact, Meneses has been selected to receive the 2013 Ada Sue Hinshaw Award from the Friends of the National Institute of Nursing Research, one of the highest honors that can be given to a researcher in the field of nursing. Award recipients, according to FNINR, must have a practical, sustained program of research that would afford her or him recognition as a prominent senior scientist. It is named in honor of the first permanent director of the National Institute of Nursing Research, one of the National Institutes of Health. Meneses will receive the award Oct. 16 at the FNINR NightinGALA in Washington, D.C.
“It’s truly overwhelming to be given this honor by the FNINR,” Meneses said. “To be recognized for my research and its implementation in cancer survivorship means so much to me.”
Meneses’ research has created new knowledge about cancer survivorship disparities research and quality of life. Her randomized clinical trial of patient-directed, nurse-led quality of life interventions, known as the Breast Cancer Education Intervention (BCEi), has been recognized as a national model of cancer survivorship education. The BCEi trial developed and tested psychological and support interventions to promote the transition from cancer patient to cancer survivor.
Data from this trial provided evidence of the central role of an actively involved patient in his or her own cancer survivorship care planning. Based on the trial’s significant outcomes, the BCEi protocol was adopted for widespread professional and public distribution by the Research Tested Interventions Program (RTIP) at the National Cancer Institute. The BCEi was also cited in a 2012 Cochrane Database Review of Systematic Research of psychosocial interventions to improve quality of life as the single study with nurse-led interventions that resulted in improved quality of life.
The BCEi also led to population-based testing and effectiveness evaluation of the interventions adapted for underserved older and rural breast cancer survivors in the Rural Breast Cancer Survivor Intervention (RBCS). Meneses’ findings in this study demonstrated that telephone-based interventions led to improved quality of life and cancer surveillance among the rural underserved.
“For me, the work I’ve done with and on behalf of breast cancer survivors enhances the significance of this award,” Meneses said. “It means what I have done has had impact, and that is part of our responsibility as nurse scientists: to have impact in everything we do.”
“Dr. Meneses’ sustained program of research in breast cancer survivorship has impacted the lives of innumerable people — young and old — worldwide,” said UAB School of Nursing Dean Doreen Harper, Ph.D., RN, FAAN. “Part of what sets her research apart is how straightforward its translation is into practice. This is a perfect example of translational research at its finest, and we could not be more proud that Dr. Meneses has been recognized for her seminal contributions to nursing research and humanity.”
Meneses has had continuous peer-reviewed funding for 25 years supporting her research in survivorship issues among underserved populations from a variety of entities, including the National Institute of Nursing Research, National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society and the Oncology Nursing Society. She has written more than 100 publications on topics related to breast cancer, quality of life, survivorship, fertility issues and health disparities research. She is the editor of two oncology textbooks, “Nursing Care in Radiation Oncology” and “Contemporary Issues in Breast Cancer.”
In 2006, Meneses was appointed by President George W. Bush to the National Cancer Advisory Board for a six-year term. In 2013, she was appointed to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Breast Cancer in Young Women. This committee was chartered in 2010 and consists of external experts and stakeholders who advise the CDC in developing, implementing and evaluating evidence-based approaches to advance the understanding and awareness of breast cancer among young women.
Most recently, with funding from the Women’s Breast Health Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, Meneses created the Young Breast Cancer Survivorship Network (YBCSN), which aims to improve the quality of life for young breast cancer survivors and their loved ones through education, personal support, distance learning and networking.
Meneses and her team host workshops and work with support groups at the American Cancer Society and other organizations that provide support services for premenopausal women diagnosed with breast cancer and their loved ones. Much of the program is Web-based, which allows greater flexibility for young women with busy schedules. The project also provides support for children of survivors through a partnership with Birmingham’s Oasis Counseling for Women and Children.
In addition to her appointments at the UAB School of Nursing, Meneses has a concurrent appointment as co-leader of the Cancer Control and Population Sciences Program of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. She also holds appointments as senior scientist at the UAB Center for Outcomes and Effectiveness Research, the UAB Center for Healthy Aging, and the UAB Center for Health Disparities Research with sustained leadership positions within these transdisciplinary research centers. Meneses also has served as chair of the Mentoring Panel of the UAB Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences.
Meneses earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Georgetown University and her master’s and doctoral degrees in nursing from Boston College.