Whether she is at the side of a patient undergoing chemotherapy, teaching young nurses, or conducting research, Lisa Kennedy Sheldon's goal is always the same: making sure cancer patients get the best possible care. She is an assistant professor at UMass Boston's College of Nursing and Health Sciences, teaching in undergraduate and doctoral programs. She also is an advanced oncology nurse practitioner at Saint Joseph's Hospital in Nashua, N.H.
Challenges of Cancer Care
"Cancer care is probably the most complicated care you can give," she says. "You take the regular chronic conditions a person has, and layer onto that a cancer diagnosis and their response to that diagnosis; their symptoms, their treatment; and the side effects of that treatment. It's very humbling and a great honor to care for them. They look to you with trust and you do what's in their best interests that day. It isn't always what's planned."
She mentions a patient who was undergoing chemotherapy for lung cancer that had spread to his bones and brain. More than anything, he wanted to drive his red Cadillac in the Fourth of July parade. "So that day, instead of giving him chemotherapy, the team decided to give him blood and extra fluids and pain medication, and he got to be in the parade. He died four weeks later. In every bed, there's a unique person. You have to go in fresh and just ask, ‘what does this person really need right now?'"
Teaching and Research
Kennedy Sheldon holds a Ph.D. in nursing from the University of Utah. Her research focuses on patient-provider communication. At Dana-Farber Phyllis B. Cantor Center for Research in Nursing and Patient Care Services, where she was a postdoctoral fellow, she analyzed how cancer patients talk with their doctors about their psychosocial concerns, such as depression and anxiety. Providers listen and acknowledge, but usually do not explore those concerns because of time or other constraints, she says. She is interested in the effect that has on referral and treatment patterns.
Alternating between clinical practice and research gives her a valuable perspective: "In research you're working with big samples and grandiose conclusions. But when you go back to the bedside, one is the biggest number in the world. Sometimes all those great ideas don't work when you get down to one person."
She has published several books, including Communication for Nurses: Talking with Patients, and many journal articles on cancer nursing education.
She combines some of her research with medical mission work in Honduras. She's interested in local and global disparities in cancer care, the role of advanced practice nursing in international settings, and initiatives to improve cancer care outcomes globally.
Once a year, she travels to Honduras with a group organized by Mary Queen of Peace parish in Salem, N.H. The group travels in the back of a pickup truck to villages near Juticalpa in the east-central part of the country, bringing donated supplies for screenings and treatment. Kennedy Sheldon shares the information she gathers with an aid agency in Honduras so that local health care providers can follow up with the patients they treat. "If we don't do that, we're not creating sustainable change," she says.
Kennedy Sheldon graduated from Saint Anselm College's nursing program in 1978.