Changing the lives of cancer survivors
Walk around the annual Young Breast Cancer Survivorship Network (YBCSN) conference each spring and you see hundreds of women in their 20s, 30s and 40s connecting and sharing their experiences, knowing they are not alone, and learning valuable information about having children after cancer, how to deal with chemo brain or better health through nutrition.
Meet their partners who are learning from experts on how to reconnect after treatment or how to help them through it. And see their children, playing with each each other but working through their fears about the possibility of losing a parent.
Their stories are the same yet different. But, there is one common thread throughout – all have been touched by University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Nursing Professor and Associate Dean for Research Karen Meneses PhD, RN, FAAN.
Five-year survivor Kristen Noles put it best, “There is not a playbook for surviving cancer, but Karen Meneses has created a structure to help us survive.”
In recognition of her more than 40 years as a nurse, educator and advocate focused on cancer survivorship, Meneses has been named UAB’s 2016 Distinguished Faculty Lecturer, the Academic Health Center’s most prestigious faculty award.
As part of the Distinguished Faculty Lecturer honor, Meneses delivered an invitation-only lecture on Wednesday, Feb. 15, at The Florentine in Birmingham, Alabama.
She is just the second from the UAB School of Nursing to receive this esteemed honor in its 53-year history, joining Dean Emerita and Distinguished Alumna Marie L. O’Koren, EdD, MSN, who was named Distinguished Faculty Lecturer in 1978.
“This is such a humbling honor,” Meneses said. “To be the one faculty member named distinguished from among all the outstanding faculty we have here at UAB is mind boggling to me.”
Meneses’ research throughout her career has created new knowledge about cancer survivorship disparities research and quality of life, but it is her work at UAB with the YBCSN that Noles, who holds an MSN, RN and CNL, and is a nurse manager at UAB Hospital and course manager of the School’s Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) Program, is most thankful.
“I applaud Dr. Meneses for ensuring the community has what is needed to carry young breast cancer survivors and their families through a life-changing experience. My family and I are so grateful to her for helping ease human suffering and making each day better for young breast cancer survivors,” Noles said.
UAB School of Nursing Dean and Fay B. Ireland Endowed Chair in Nursing Doreen C. Harper, PhD, RN, FAAN, finds it fitting that Meneses’ life-long work has been highlighted in such a fashion.
“Dr. Meneses’ sustained program of research in breast cancer survivorship has impacted the lives of numerous people – young and old – worldwide,” Harper said. “Part of what sets her apart is how straightforward her research translates into practice and how caring she is. We could not be more proud that Dr. Meneses has been recognized in this manner for her contributions to nursing research, to UAB and the UAB School of Nursing and to humanity.”
Meneses’ nomination was led by her colleague and friend Edward E. Partridge, MD, director of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and professor of medicine. Partridge, the 2010 Distinguished Faculty Lecturer, was glowing in his recommendation of Meneses.
“After meeting Dr. Meneses almost 15 years ago, even before she was recruited to UAB, I was immediately struck by her impressive clinical and research expertise in cancer survivorship,” Partridge said. “Her collaborative contributions to the UAB Academic Health Center span the spheres of education, research and service.”
Meneses’ nomination was also supported by Jay R. Harris, MD, chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, distinguished professor at the Harvard Medical School and her long-time mentor.
“Karen has an exemplary record of sustained public service,” Harris said. “She exemplifies the characteristics of the distinguished lecturer through her sustained contributions to science, significant contributions to improving health and quality of life, reducing suffering and consistent outstanding contributions through education, research and public service.”
Noles too provided a letter of support, which was a tremendously heartfelt, personal show of support for a clinician – and friend – who helped Noles through her own personal battle with breast cancer as a 35-year-old mother of three.
“Dr. Meneses listened, not only to me but to women throughout our community, to explore what we, as patients, felt we needed,” she said.
Meneses called Noles words “extremely touching” and said her career has been “incredibly fulfilling” with numerous such opportunities to work with patients, their families, students and fellow faculty and clinicians.
Meneses’ “fulfilling” career has been an accomplished one as well, considering cancer and survivorship were not what she set out to do.
She graduated with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from Georgetown University and went to work at George Washington University Medical Center where she initially sought assignment to the labor and delivery unit. She was told that such an assignment was not possible for a new graduate, but that there was a position available on the gynecologic-oncology unit.
“That was even more complex care as far I was concerned, but I figured they were just telling me that more people wanted to work in labor and delivery and not as many were interested in working in oncology,” Meneses said with a laugh. “I said ‘fine’ and that’s where my love of oncology began. It was a time where I hadn’t really expected what I got, but I ended up loving what I did.”
Meneses subsequently earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in nursing from Boston College, has held clinical appointments at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center Orlando and taught nursing at Boston University and the University of Central Florida before moving to Birmingham. Along the way she has crafted a career of accomplishments, achievements and milestones that span 40 years, including:
• Developing the Breast Cancer Education Intervention (BCEi), which has been recognized as a national model of cancer survivorship education and was 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.
• Adapting the BCEi for underserved older and rural breast cancer survivors in the Rural Breast Cancer Survivor Intervention (RBCS) and demonstrating that telephone-based interventions led to improved quality of life and cancer surveillance among the rural underserved.
• Continuous peer-reviewed funding for more than 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.
• Establishing the Young Breast Cancer Survivorship Network through a two-year, $150,000 grant from the Women’s Breast Health Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham.
• Securing a three-year, $405,000 Susan G. Komen Training Program in Breast Cancer Survivorship Training Grant for the School.
• Receiving the 2013 Ada Sue Hinshaw Award from the Friends of the National Institute of Nursing Research, one of the highest honors given to a researcher in the field of nursing.
• Appointment to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Breast Cancer in Young Women in 2013.
• Appointment to a six-year term on the National Cancer Advisory Board by President George W. Bush in 2006.
Meneses has also found a home working with Partridge and his team at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center as co-leader of the Cancer Control and Population Sciences Program.
“One of the things about UAB that is most impressive to anyone coming here as it was to me is the amazing interdisciplinary work,” Meneses said. “At other institutions there is talk about coming to the table in such a fashion. Here at UAB it is a requirement.
“I have been from Boston to Florida to here, and I believe UAB is the place I am supposed to be.”
Partridge best summed up the esteem in which Meneses is held by those who know and work with her.
“Above all, Dr. Meneses is a consummate integrated scholar whose work has touched thousands of women and their families,” Partridge said. “She has also made significant investments in the lives and educations of UAB students and faculty who are striving to impact health for people as well. The magnitude of her contributions to our Academic Health Center are indescribable, and her commitment to advancing the frontier of science is unsurpassable.”