Academics / Fall 2015

Healing the cure + the disease

The diagnosis and subsequent treatment of cancer can be a long and painful process. At times it almost seems like the cure is worse than the disease, but many healthcare professionals today are working feverishly to help patients make it through these physically and emotionally difficult times.

Dr. Jen Lee, assistant professor of psychology, is at the forefront of improving research and healthcare in pain management. Her work is not only showing positive results for patients, but also for Mount Mercy students who assist Lee in her studies.

“Mount Mercy values research and how much it applies to the education of all of our students; that is why I am here,” Lee said.  “The school has really let me succeed in a variety of areas instead of just focusing on one path, and I think that’s really important for faculty and students’ continued education and growth.”

Her journey from researcher to healer was inspired by the patients she met along the way and informed by her educational experience.

“My interest in this area of study started when I began working with people with cancer,” Lee said. “I was volunteering weekly in the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, providing counseling and advocacy for patients receiving chemotherapy. I knew right away that I had found my passion—to do everything in my power to improve the quality of life for people with cancer.”

Dr. Jen Lee, assistant professor of psychology, is at the forefront of improving research and healthcare in pain management..

Dr. Jen Lee, assistant professor of psychology, is at the forefront of improving research and healthcare in pain management..

This led her to explore the causes of cancer-related pain, fatigue and the reduced quality of life that comes with these. She was able to find, through patient conversations and research, what physical activities, nutrition and lifestyle changes showed positive physical results.

“The problem with the treatments patients are given for cancer and other illnesses is, often, they cause more symptoms or side effects, so then we end up treating those symptoms or side effects,” Lee said. “The value of non-pharmacological treatment is that it’s not medicine, so most of the treatments don’t cause any side effects, they can only help. Examples of these approaches include exercise, physical activity, yoga, a healthy diet and nutrition, just to name a few. Most of these are things you can do for free and are often very helpful and lead to patients needing less medications.”

Along with her assistant professorship, Lee is the director of undergraduate research at Mount Mercy which matches students with faculty-student research opportunities.

“The school’s focus on developing research curricula to better the lives of the community, and having students help with that is wonderful because it helps the students grow personally and academically, and also contributes back to science,” Lee said. “It’s a pretty cool system if you ask me.”

“Working on research at MMU has made a significant impact on me both in the classroom and outside,” said Becca Louison ’15, who graduated from Mount Mercy last spring with a degree in psychology. “Working one-on-one with faculty in a research setting helped me apply the concepts and principles I was learning in the classroom. The experience and opportunities provided at MMU have built a strong foundation that will always shape who I am and who I will become.”

Written by Corey Munson ’08

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