Professor Andrea Cohee is an Assistant Professor in the IUPUI School of Nursing. Her program of research focuses on psychosocial outcomes in survivors and their partners following a breast cancer diagnosis. Her work examines the relationship between social constraints, cognitive processing, and fear of recurrence and depression in both breast cancer survivors and their partners. She is currently building on her previous research to develop interventions targeting fear of a cancer recurrence in survivors and their partners. Her long-term goal is to develop interventions for cancer survivors and their partners to improve quality of life outcomes that can be implemented into the clinical setting.
In her free time, Professor Cohee enjoys spending quality time with her husband and two young children at their soccer games and dance classes.
We call cancer a "couples' disease;" let's treat it like one.Professor Andrea Cohee
Q and A with Professor Cohee
I first became interested in researching couples when I was practicing at the bedside as a registered nurse. I worked in blood/marrow transplant with patients who were very sick and stayed on the unit for weeks or months at a time. It wasn’t just the patients who were there, but their significant others too. Some slept in the hospital room on uncomfortable beds, some stayed at a hotel near the hospital but hundreds of miles away from their families, and some had to travel back and forth to care for their kids. I saw the emotional strain that this put on both the patient and significant other, and considered what challenges they would also face once they were home. I wanted to find a way to help. My initial research focus in graduate school was the way each person, survivor and partner, communicated their cancer-related feelings to one another and how that was related to their depression and fear of cancer recurrence.
I am trying to alleviate long-term psychosocial suffering for breast cancer survivors and their partners. Many survivors and their partners experience depression, anxiety, and fear of cancer recurrence for years after the survivor’s diagnosis. There are many factors that contribute to these negative outcomes, such as how they talk about their cancer-related thoughts and feelings to their significant other and how confident they feel about being able to handle cancer-related challenges. For the survivors, we have spent several decades studying these factors and how to address them. Interventions for partners, though, are scarce. My goal is to build interventions that address the problems that partners face.
Building partnerships with organizations that serve breast cancer survivors and caregivers in the Indianapolis area is important to me. I want to ensure that the work I’m doing is truly meeting the needs of the people with whom I’m working. For my last study, I worked with R.E.D. Alliance, a local agency serving African American breast cancer survivors, and a fantastic person in the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center, Rivienne Shedd-Steele, who helped to recruit partners of African American women here in Indianapolis. Because of the generosity of partners who participated in my study and shared their experiences, the intervention I’m designing now will mirror what they said they needed and wanted.
Internationally, I am building collaborations with researchers in Canada and Australia who are experts in fear of cancer recurrence. With these scientists, I am continuing to parse out what contributes to partners’ fear of cancer recurrence and learning how to intervene on those issues. My presentations at international conferences and on international webinars always spark exciting conversations about the experiences of breast cancer survivors and partners worldwide. I hope that my work inspires us to look past the needs of just the patient and look at the overall need of partners and families for all diseases too. Interventions that support the needs of the people providing support will improve the wellbeing of the supporter, as well as the patient. This can translate to all other diseases where the spouse or children are deeply impacted by their loved one’s illness.
I love talking to breast cancer survivors and their partners. Hearing their stories and learning about their experiences with cancer is usually, though perhaps surprisingly, encouraging and inspiring. In my last study, I interviewed partners about their experiences and challenges during and following their significant other’s cancer treatment. Many of them talked about how they wanted to be with her, help her, and comfort her. They spoke lovingly about their survivors and how much breast cancer affected them. They talked about their fears that the cancer would come back or they didn’t have anyone to talk to about their fears. It reaffirmed my determination to find ways to support them.
I love working with students and have several currently working on my projects. Two Nursing Science PhD students, Danielle Short and Jennifer Alwine, manage my projects. They help me at all stages of research by (first and foremost) keeping me organized, conducting literature searches and summarizing data, contacting study participants, submitting manuscripts, editing, and more. My goals would be unreachable without their fantastic work. This year I am thrilled to co-mentor an IU Bloomington undergraduate pre-med student, Maria Jaimes, with Dr. Kosali Simon through the Center for Research on Race & Ethnicity in Society’s Undergraduate Research Program. Working with students in undergraduate and graduate programs is so exciting because I get to watch them ask questions, discover, and grow. My hope in having students work with me is to help the next generation of scientists refine their skills and to give them experiences that they might not get in the classroom.
At each step of my research, I meet with community members individually to gain their valuable insight: am I asking the right questions, am I reaching the populations effectively, and am I building interventions that will meet their needs? The intervention I’m currently developing is a direct result- in content and format- from what partners of breast cancer survivors in my last study expressed as being important. We found the partners in that study by connecting with community members and organizations, such as R.E.D. Alliance. My first step is always to recruit African American partners of breast cancer survivors. As an underrepresented group in research and specifically in breast cancer, getting their voices is my top priority. I am dedicating this early stage of my career to building community partnerships that can endure.
Right now, I have several projects I am thrilled to build. The exciting part of this stage is all of the potential: what will be the result of these ideas? The first project is to continue developing and refining an intervention for partners that will help them to build confidence for handling breast-cancer-related challenges. The second project is a collaborative effort with amazing health economics professors at IU Bloomington and IUPUI- Dr. Kosali Simon and Dr. Sumedha Gupta. We will be analyzing insurance data from the last decade of spouses of breast cancer survivors. Our interest is in whether or not partners of breast cancer survivors sought routine and emergent health care at a higher rate after their spouse’s diagnosis. In prior studies where participants reported their own symptoms, partners of breast cancer survivors reported higher depression and anxiety and lower quality of life than partners of healthy women. Now we want to know if they also sought help for these conditions.
Conversation with Professor Cohee
On Friday, October 22, 2021 from 12 noon to 1:00 p.m. Professor Cohee gave a virtual presentation about her work on “Caring for the Carers: The Psychosocial Impact of Breast Cancer on Partners.” She discussed the research she has done to uncover contributors to partners’ distress, what they have said they want from healthcare professionals, and what healthcare professionals are doing to help.
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