Spotlight on Nursing Research//Lymphedema in Head and Neck Cancer Patients

Photo by Daniel Dubois

The road to further nursing research and higher education for Jie Deng started with the 2003 SARS outbreak in China.  At the time, Deng was the Associate Chief Nursing Officer at Peking University Health Science Center in Beijing.

“Our nurses were incredible – the sacrifices they made for their patients. We had very limited knowledge at the beginning, and that made me see the need for nursing research as the foundation for providing the best health care to patients,” said Deng.

Fast forward about six years, Deng, PhD, MSN, RN, is one of Vanderbilt University School of Nursing’s newest
faculty members.  She left her home in China after 12 years in various nursing positions to pursue a PhD at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, which she completed in 2010, followed by her post-doctorate which she completed in 2012.

Deng was interested in symptom management, and throughout her doctoral education worked with cancer patients.  She gained experience and growing curiosity through strong mentors such as VUSN’s Sheila Ridner, PhD, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center’s Barbara Murphy, MD, and Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Nancy Wells, DSN, but it was really listening to patients that attracted her to study secondary lymphedema and post cancer treatment in head and neck cancer patients.

“Some breast cancer patients told me their lymphedema was even worse than their cancer.  It affected their daily life and relationships with family – things like grandparents who couldn’t hold their grandbabies because of swelling in their arms,” said Deng.

She recalls seeing her first patient in the Vanderbilt-Ingram’s Head and Neck Cancer Clinic who asked for advice on how to handle neck swelling.  Deng promised to look up information in the literature and was surprised to see so few research articles in the area.

As VUSN faculty, Deng is working on several projects, including a validation instrument for rating external lymphedema in head and neck cancer patients – truly ground-breaking work that opens up the field to future interventional studies.

“I want to dedicate myself to lymphedema research, teaching and service,” said Deng.  “Teaching is an important part of that because it really feeds the research environment.  I’ve had exceptional mentors, and I am very interested in mentoring pre-doctoral students, residents and fellows and eventually post-docs.”

While Deng is a proud nurse, nurse researcher and professor, she’s also a proud mom.  She and her husband have three children – Julia, 11, Michael, 3, and Jacob, born in  August 2012.

– Kathy Rivers

For more information on this topic:
Deng, J., Murphy, B.A., Dietrich, M.S., Wells, N., Wallston, K.A., Sinard, R.J., Cmelak, A.J., Gilbert, J., & Ridner, S.H. (2012 Jul 12; 2012 EPub Ahead of Print). The Impact of Secondary Lymphedema after Head and Neck Cancer Treatment on Symptoms, Functional Status, and Quality Of Life. Head & Neck. doi: 10.1002/hed.23084 PMID: 22791550

Deng, J., Ridner, S.H., Dietrich, M.S., Wells, N., Wallston, K.A., Sinard, R.J., Cmelak, A.J., & Murphy, B.A. (2012). Factors Associated with External and Internal Lymphedema in Patients with Head and Neck Cancer. International Journal of Radiation Oncology *Biology* Physics, 1, 84(3):e319-28. doi: 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2012.04.013 PMID: 22652102.