• Phyllis F. Cantor Center for Research in Nursing and Patient Care Services

    Staff Profiles

    Donna L. Berry, PhD, RN, AOCN®, FAAN

    Director
    Email: donna_berry@dfci.harvard.edu 

    Donna L. BerryDonna L. Berry, PhD, RN, AOCN®, FAAN, Director 

    Dr. Berry completed her undergraduate education at Baylor University and holds graduate degrees from the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Houston and the University of Washington. Her commitment to improving care of the person with cancer has spanned over three decades, beginning with her work as an oncology staff nurse and continuing with her mentorship activities and current leadership in designing, implementing, evaluating, and teaching patient-centered oncology practices. Her scholarship has been presented locally, nationally and internationally and published in nursing, medical and interdisciplinary journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine. Dr. Berry is often asked to speak and contribute in international venues, notably Australia, Switzerland, Korea, Hong Kong and Japan.

    Continuously funded by NIH since 1998, Dr. Berry has pioneered in two important areas: patient-centered oncology care and nursing leadership within oncology research. To implement her patient-centered care paradigm, Dr. Berry formulated an interdisciplinary team and then led that team to successfully design and implement an accessible, computerized system to assess symptom experiences and quality of life variables. The Electronic Self report Assessment-Cancer (ESRA-C) has been found to increase patient-provider discussions of symptom and quality of life issues plus decrease symptom distress. She has led another large, multi-disciplinary team to develop, produce and test the first and only Internet intervention based on personal factors to support treatment decision-making by men with localized prostate cancer. The Personal Patient Profile-Prostate (P3P) has been shown to significantly reduce decisional conflict in men. Recognized by nomination to and election to Fellowship in the American Academy of Nursing, she has assumed increasing leadership and responsibility for transforming health care. In 2011, the Oncology Nursing Society honored Dr. Berry with the Annual Distinguished Researcher Award. The Association of Community Cancer Centers named her as the 2012 recipient of their Annual Clinical Researcher Award.


    Jennifer Allen, RN, MS, MPH, ScD

    Nurse Scientist
    Email: jennifer_allen@dfci.harvard.edu 

    Jennifer AllenJennifer Allen, RN, MS, MPH, ScD, Nurse Scientist 

    Dr. Allen received her Bachelors degree in nursing and Masters degree in Community Health Nursing from Boston College. In addition, she has a Masters and Doctoral Degree in Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health. She began her nursing career in community health in international and domestic settings. This work sparked her interest in the roles of social, economic and environmental forces on health. For the past 15 years, she has been an investigator in the Center for Community-Based Research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Her research has focused on the development and evaluation of community-based approaches to cancer prevention and control among medically underserved populations. She has conducted randomized trials of lay-led interventions designed to promote screening for breast and cervical cancers. In addition, she has developed computer-tailored interventions to promote informed decision-making for prostate cancer screening.

    Dr. Allen has received funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Cancer Institute, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Minority Health and Disparities. This funding has supported innovative work to promote cancer screenings for low-income immigrant populations in churches, worksites, neighborhoods and other community settings. Dr. Allen is in the process of completing two studies with Latino faith based organizations in Massachusetts. These studies explore strategies to increase community capacity to offer evidence-based intervention for cancer control. In addition, Dr. Allen is designing a web-based, interactive, decision aid to promote informed decision-making for prostate cancer screening among African American men. Dr. Allen is a member of the American Public Health Association, the Massachusetts Public Health Association, the American Nurses Association, and the Massachusetts Nurses' Association.

    Research Interests

    Design, evaluation, and dissemination of community-based interventions; cancer prevention and control in underserved communities; health disparities.

    Appointments & Awards
    • Assistant Professor, Medical Oncology, Harvard Medical School
    • Assistant Professor, Medical Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
    • Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Society, Human Development and Health, Harvard School of Public Health

    Mary Cooley, PhD, APRN, BC

    Nurse Scientist
    Email: mary_cooley@dfci.harvard.edu 

    Mary CooleyMary Cooley, PhD, APRN, BC, Nurse Scientist 

    The focus of Dr. Cooley's work has been symptom management and quality of life in adults with cancer. She began doctoral study at University of Pennsylvania and was awarded an institutional pre-doctoral fellowship through the National Institutes for Health (NIH) and doctoral scholarships from the American Cancer Society and the Oncology Nursing Foundation. In her dissertation, Dr. Cooley described the changes in patterns of symptom distress in adults receiving treatment for lung cancer and examined the relationship of selected demographic and clinical characteristics to symptom distress over time. Results from this study found that symptom distress scores were moderate to high on entry into the study and that the change in pattern of symptom distress was not the same among treatment groups. Adults who received surgical treatment had less symptom distress at three months as compared with those who received combined treatment. Various demographic and clinical variables were weak and inconsistent predictors of symptom distress.

    She then completed a post-doctoral fellowship in psychosocial oncology at University of Pennsylvania sponsored by the NIH. She conducted a secondary analysis to examine symptom prevalence, distress, and change over time in adults receiving treatment for lung cancer. Results from this study found that fatigue and pain were the most distressing symptoms for each group and at each time. Significant differences in distressing symptoms among the treatment groups were noted. Many of the individual symptoms were associated with demographic and treatment group values but no consistent pattern emerged over time except for baseline symptom distress. Symptom distress at entry to the study was a strong predictor of nine distressing symptoms at three months and seven distressing symptoms at six months. Subsequently, she received funding through the American Cancer Society for a study examining the use of health status questionnaires as predictors of unscheduled health care visits in ambulatory oncology. Data analyses for this study are in the final stages. During this time, she also participated in the development of a state cancer control plan for Connecticut and as a result became interested in smoking cessation interventions.

    After completing the post-doctoral fellowship, Dr. Cooley joined a multidisciplinary research team in the Smoking Cessation Research Program. While at the Smoking Cessation Research Program, Dr. Cooley was selected to attend the 2002 Summer Institute for Randomized Clinical Trials Involving Behavioral Interventions sponsored by the NIH. Most recently, Dr. Cooley was chosen as the recipient of the Oncology Nursing Society New Investigator Award. This award is presented to an investigator who is within five years of finishing his or her doctoral program and has contributed to building a scientific basis for oncology nursing. Dr. Cooley started working as a research scientist in The Phyllis F. Cantor Center for Research in Nursing and Patient Care Services in December 2002 and continues to move forward her program of research in symptom management and quality of life in adults with cancer and is beginning a program of research in smoking cessation interventions.


    Meghan Underhill, PhD, RN, AOCNS

    Instructor
    Email: meghanl_underhill@dfci.harvard.edu 

    Meghan UnderhillMeghan Underhill, PhD, RN  

    Dr. Underhill has focused the past 6 years of her career on understanding and improving experiences of persons with hereditary cancer risk. She received her undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral education at the University Of Buffalo School Of Nursing. Her doctoral research explored the lived experience of having hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome in women with no cancer diagnosis.

    She was selected as a post-doctoral research fellow through the University of Massachusetts Boston and Dana Farber Cancer Institute U54 partnership focused in cancer and health disparities, and completed this training from 2011-2013. During her fellowship Dr. Underhill completed a secondary analysis of qualitative date from women with deleterious BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations, focused on exploring decision support needs. She was also funded through the Daisy Foundation to complete qualitative research focused on the meaning and experience of living with hereditary or familial pancreatic cancer.

    Additionally, Meghan continues her work within the Science and Practice Aligned within Nursing initiative focused on improving patient outcomes through evidence based practice and research initiatives.


    Jean Boucher, PhD, RN, APRN-BC

    Clinical Inquiry Specialist
    Email: jean_boucher@dfci.harvard.edu 

    Jean has worked as an oncology nurse practitioner with adult cancer patients for over 18 years in clinical practice and research work. She has worked in multi-disciplinary practice teams with clinical trials work and nursing research funded work on symptom instrument development for gastrointestinal cancer patients and quality of life concerns for prostate and colorectal cancer patients/families. As a clinical inquiry specialist at DFCI, The Phyllis F. Cantor Center, Jean works with Dr. Donna Berry, Director, and a team of doctorally-prepared nurses to facilitate evidence-based practice projects with DFCI nurses. She has worked with nurse-led teams regarding oral chemotherapy adherence and symptom management of fatigue in the ambulatory setting. Current EBP work includes a project regarding preemptive dermatological management of EGFRI skin toxicity protocol to be piloted by an interdisciplinary team with lung cancer patients in DFCI Thoracic Oncology.


    Kristin Roper, RN, MSN, OCN, PhD(c)

    Clinical Inquiry Specialist
    Email: kroper@lroc.harvard.edu 

    Kristin RoperKristin Roper, RN, MSN, OCN, PhD(c) 

    Kristin Roper works as a Clinical Inquiry Specialist (CIS) at the Cantor Center facilitating evidence-based practice projects with DFCI nurses. Prior to working as a CIS, Kristin worked in various positions including an inpatient oncology nurse, outpatient infusion nurse, and clinical research nurse in both medical and radiation oncology for ~25 years. Currently a PhD candidate in nursing healthcare policy at UMASS Boston, Kristin's clinical research includes health related quality of life in Hodgkin's lymphoma survivors, legislative and organizational policy initiatives relating to the HRQOL, patterns of continued employment, return to work, and work productivity of the colorectal cancer survivor. Kristin is an active member of the DFCI internal review board and the NCCN distress panel.


    Darryl Somayaji, PhD, RN, CNS, CCRC

    Post-Doctoral Research Fellow
    Email: darryl_somayaji@dfci.harvard.edu 

    Darryl Somayaji is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow through the University of Massachusetts Boston and Dana- Farber Cancer Institute U54 Partnership in Cancer and Health Disparities. She has a PhD in Nursing from the University of Utah, where she received pre-doctoral scholarships from the American Cancer Society to support developing her program of research in cancer care. Her dissertation work focused on critically exploring relationships between actual and potential African-American research subjects and the research community. Dr. Somayaji’s research explored how history, discourse, and perceptions related to race, identity, and power constructed the role of research subject as a social identity, and how these relationships may contribute to sustaining inequitable relationships in cancer research. Historical, discursive, and sociolinguistic approaches were synthesized into a method for analyzing how history and discourse co-construct “research subject”. Positive concepts included historical roots, family, knowledge, accountability, and community. Negative concepts conveyed concerns of distrust, discrimination, limited resources, and lack of information about research studies. Study findings highlighted how language mediates and constructs our understanding of cultural and historical practices surrounding cancer research and study recruitment.

    Her program of research will continue to explore, understand cancer care disparities, and through research outcomes develop improved strategies for communication, education, and resources leading to equitable cancer care. Areas of focus include health care discrimination in the medical and research setting, recruitment and retention of participants to cancer research, and survivorship programs designed to meet the needs of underserved populations.

    Dr. Somayaji is a member of the Oncology Nursing Society, Sigma Theta Tau International, The Council for the Advancement of Nursing Science, and is a member of the New York State Cancer Consortium Steering Committee and Clinical Trial Committee. She is currently holds an appointment as Adjunct Assistant Professor of Oncology in Cancer Prevention and Population Science at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, NY.


    Shannon Harrington, PhD, RN

    Post-Doctoral Research Fellow
    Email: shannont_harrington@dfci.harvard.edu 

    Dr. Harrington completed her undergraduate education at Old Dominion University and holds graduate degrees from the University of Virginia; a Master’s in Nursing with a concentration in Health Systems Management, and a nursing doctorate. Her dissertation research explored disparities in breast cancer patients’ perceptions of nursing care quality in outpatient settings. Dr. Harrington is currently a post-doctoral research fellow at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute/Harvard Cancer Center/UMass Boston. Her research interests include: healthcare disparities, quality of care, breast cancer, health promotion/disease prevention, and the impact of poor nutrition and lack of exercise on health outcomes. Prior to her fellowship, she was a nurse educator for 6 years, teaching a variety of courses online and face to face in the traditional baccalaureate program and the RN to BSN program at the University of Virginia and Old Dominion University. Dr. Harrington also has 11 years of acute care experience in medical surgical nursing in a variety of settings including both inpatient and outpatient settings.

    In addition to conducting research and teaching, she has been a national presenter at the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) Congress in 2013 in which she did a poster presentation of her dissertation research findings and 2011, speaking on disparities among African American women with breast cancer. Dr. Harrington continuously volunteers with the Susan G. Komen Tidewater Affiliate, and the American Cancer Society. She is an active member of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society, and served as a delegate in 2010.


    Virginia LeBaron, RN, PhD, FAANP

    Post-Doctoral Research Fellow
    Email: virginia_lebaron@dfci.harvard.edu 

    Virginia LeBaron is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow through the University of Massachusetts Boston and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute U54 Partnership in Cancer and Health Disparities. She has a PhD in Nursing from the University of Utah College of Nursing and holds advance practice certifications as an acute care nurse practitioner (ACNP-BC) and in palliative care (ACHPN) and oncology nursing (AOCN). Virginia’s developing program of research broadly focuses on how to optimize pain and symptom management for people suffering with advanced cancer. More specifically, Virginia is interested in global cancer control in lower income countries, particularly interventions to improve opioid availability and access to palliative care services that can inform policy and health care provider education. Since 2004 Virginia has served as volunteer faculty with the International Network for Cancer Treatment and Research Palliative Access Program and been involved with collaborative initiatives in India, Nepal and Tanzania. As a doctoral student, she was awarded a Fulbright-Nehru Fellowship to conduct a 9-month ethnography in South India exploring the potential relationship between opioid availability and moral distress. Virginia’s post-doctoral research through the Cantor Center will continue to seek ways to improve symptom management and palliative care for vulnerable cancer patients.


    Erica Sorrentino, MA

    Senior Clinical Research Coordinator
    Email: esorrentino@partners.org 

    Erica Sorrentino works as Senior Clinical Research Coordinator in the Cantor Center on studies that primarily develop and test socio- or biobehavioral supportive care interventions for persons at risk of, receiving treatment for, or surviving cancer and their families. Erica graduated from Brandeis University in 2006 with a BA in Psychology, and continued her education at Tufts University, where she obtained her MA in Child Development, concentrating in clinical developmental psychology. In May of 2011, she completed her premedical post baccalaureate in the Health Careers Program at Harvard Extension School. Prior to joining the Cantor Center, Erica served as Project Manager for the Neurodevelopmental Disorders Phenotyping Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, whose research focus is aimed at better understanding autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disorders.


    Maribel Melendez, MBA

    Clinical Research Coordinator
    Email: maribel_melendez@dfci.harvard.edu 

    Maribel MelendezMaribel Melendez, MBA; Clinical Research Coordinator 

    Maribel Melendez received a Master of Business Administration in Healthcare Management from the University of Phoenix and is a graduate of Northeastern University with a Bachelor of Science in Health Education. Before arriving at the Cantor Center, Ms. Melendez worked in the Center for Community-Based Research in Population Sciences at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute as a Research Coordinator for the Step Up, Trim Down, the Open Doors to Health, the United for Health and the Parent (Jimmy Fund Clinic) research studies. Maribel is passionate about narrowing health and treatment disparities related to cancer in underserved populations. She was fortunate enough to receive the Employee Merit Award at Dana-Farber while in service at the Center for Community-Based Research, furthering her commitment to excellence.


    Erica Fox, RN

    Research Data Specialist
    Email: erica_fox@dfci.harvard.edu 

    Erica Fox received a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, where she was awarded the Hebrew SeniorLife scholarship in gerontological nursing, and elected to Sigma Theta Tau International. While at the University, Erica assisted Dr. Suzanne Leveille with research exploring the efficacy of an experimental device designed to improve medication adherence in elderly patients. Erica also holds a Masters degree from Boston University in Instructional Media and Technology. Prior to joining the Cantor Center staff, Erica worked extensively in both for-profit and non-profit educational settings, as a project manager, curriculum designer and teacher. She has received numerous awards for her programs, including the Distinguished Community Service Award from Boston's Horizons for Homeless Children.


    Leah Gibbons, MA

    Program Administrator
    Email: leah_gibbons@dfci.harvard.edu 

    As the Program Administrator for the Cantor Center, Leah handles all of the day-to-day operations of the department as well as managing all research grants and discretionary funds. She has been at Dana-Farber for eight years and has previously worked in Research Accounting and the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. Before joining DFCI in 2005, Leah worked as a field research assistant on various projects studying the ecology of different bird species.

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