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Phyllis F. Cantor Center Staff Profiles

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


    Donna 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.

    Meghan Underhill, PhD, RN, AOCNS

    Associate Director

    Meghan 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.

    Mary Cooley, PhD, APRN, BC

    Nurse Scientist

    Mary 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.

    Olga Ehrlich, PhD, RN, CHPN

    Post-Doctoral Research Fellow     

    Olga Ehrlich joined the collaborative research team at the Phyllis F. Cantor Center for Research in Nursing and Patient Care Services as a post-doctoral research fellow after completing her doctoral dissertation at the College of Nursing, UMass Amherst. She obtained her BS in nursing from Arizona State University. Dr. Ehrlich has worked as a palliative and hospice home nurse clinician while completing her graduate studies and is board certified in this specialty. Consequently, her research studies have focused on symptom management and clinical outcomes for end-stage cancer patients, their family caregivers, and their hospice nurses. She conducted a grounded theory study to construct a theoretical framework for social processes that the hospice caring triad engage in while managing cancer pain. Findings from that research will inform the focus of future work as a post-doctoral fellow specializing in cancer and health disparities. Improving patient and caregiver reported pain outcomes by developing and testing pain management interventions will comprise the next phase of her research career. Her fellowship is jointly sponsored by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and UMass Boston College of Nursing.

    Robert Knoerl, PhD, RN

    Post-Doctoral Research Fellow

    Robert Knoerl completed his undergraduate and doctoral nursing education at the University of Michigan. During this time, he earned entry into the Hillman Scholars Program in Nursing Innovation, a program designed for students to complete their BSN and PhD studies in seven years or less. Dr. Knoerl’s research interests involve the use of integrative therapies for the management of cancer treatment – related symptoms, specifically, chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. For his dissertation, he conducted a randomized waitlist-controlled trial testing the efficacy of a self-guided, online, cognitive behavioral pain management program for individuals with chronic painful chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. Dr. Knoerl’s long-term goal is to become an independent nurse scientist conducting integrative symptom management interventions to improve quality of life and physical functioning in individuals with cancer treatment-related symptoms.

    Erica Fox, RN

    Senior Clinical Research Coordinator

    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 Manager

    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.