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A Q&A with Quest Action Team Member Sharla Meisenheimer

Cancer center advocate shares cancer journey and why she’s passionate about NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center designation.

Sharla Meisenheimer

May 27, 2020

The University of Kansas Cancer Center is ramping up its efforts to apply for the highest level of designation by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Comprehensive cancer center designation is the premier ranking awarded by the NCI. It is the gold standard, awarded to cancer centers that are recognized for their trailblazing research and leadership in developing leading-edge treatments. This multi-year endeavor is a truly collective mission, uniting everyone in our community.

To help raise awareness of the community impact of NCI Comprehensive designation, the cancer center launched Within Reach: The Quest to Conquer All Cancers in 2020. Supporting the campaign are the cancer center’s “Quest Action Team” (A Team) members, who are committed to bringing the next level of cancer care and research to our region.

Sharla Meisenheimer, a member of the A Team and a cancer survivor, shares her thoughts on the importance of giving all people in the region greater access to breakthrough ideas and novel treatments.

Why did you become an A Team member?

First, it was a huge honor to be asked. I feel strongly that I have been given an opportunity to give back. I have a chance to share with others the work that is being done at the cancer center and how it impacts their communities, their lives and their family.

Why is NCI designation important for your community and the broader region?

NCI designation is important because the stronger the cancer center is, the stronger we all are in this fight. When more tools from research and trials are put into the community toolbox, the better for everyone.

I am extremely fortunate to live in Manhattan! My cancer journey began in Hutchinson and during treatment I moved to “Manhappiness.” Community is more than a pin on a map. It is the willingness of patients, doctors and caregivers to work together without ego or accolade, for the same end goal, survival.

My journey of survival began in Hutchinson and then KU Cancer Center joined me on my path, along with my doctors in Manhattan. When we learned I had two separate primary cancers, lung cancer and breast cancer, we were told we would need to decide which cancer to fight first. We asked my doctor if we should get a second opinion. He said absolutely, my case was not a typically case, and he would make the calls for us. My husband had undergone a heart procedure at The University of Kansas Health System and we were both comfortable with the care he had received. We chose KU Cancer Center. Interestingly, my oncologist had previously worked with KU Cancer Center breast medical oncologist Dr. Qamar Khan, and it was a great connection.

What are some of the ways you are helping spread the word about the cancer center’s quest for NCI designation?

When I first came to Manhattan, I was in the middle of treatment. I was still wearing my wig and had additional rounds of therapy left, and I did not really tell people about my diagnoses. I did not want to be the “cancer girl” when people first met me. Now, most people are familiar with my story and I am not bashful about sharing when it is appropriate. I have spoken with small groups, one-on one-with individuals as well as sharing on my social media accounts.

I also try to connect people when possible. When someone wants a second opinion, I share how to set an appointment. I am humbled when someone asks my advice on how to help support a friend, relative or co-worker who is in the fight.

What have you learned about the cancer center that surprised you?

The survival rate increases 25% when treated at an NCI-designated facility, and that people from 43 states and 19 counties have come to KU Cancer Center for treatment.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

My husband is semi-retired now and we enjoy all that Manhattan has to offer. My all-time favorite activity is Kansas State University football! Our daughter was recently married, and we enjoy spending time with her and her new husband in Oklahoma City when we can.

Learn more about Sharla’s cancer journey.


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