Clinical Trials Day Countdown: Meet Stacy

As part of our countdown to Clinical Trials Day, we're interviewing some of our clinical team members. Follow along here to meet our team and learn about their experiences within clinical research!

Today we're interviewing Stacy Cowden, RN, Research Nurse Coordinator.

 

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1. When did you begin working in clinical research and expand to where you're today?

While in the military, I had the opportunity to get my EMT license since I was pregnant with our first child and was unable to perform the duties of my primary job, Explosive Ordnance Disposal. Being given that opportunity, I realized that taking care of people was something I enjoyed, so after I separated from the military, I decided to pursue nursing. I became a nurse in 2008 after serving in the military and starting a family. Right out of nursing school, I was offered my first job as a med/surg nurse at a community hospital where I did my clinical rotations. After becoming a more proficient nurse, I continued working in the emergency department at a Level 2 trauma center. Before getting into research, I took a position briefly at a pediatric center and quickly realized being a pediatric nurse was not for me.  

My journey into clinical research started in 2015 when clinical research found me. My neighbor worked in human resources at the University of Pennsylvania and told me about a research nurse position opening at the Abramson Cancer Center. Abramson Cancer Center is one of the top world leaders in cancer research. She knew I was looking for an opportunity that was day shift so that I could be more involved with my kids’ activities. I took the opportunity to apply, and the lead nurses that interviewed me called and were happy to give me a chance. I started with some gastrointestinal and brain studies, and then they offered me the opportunity to join the growing pancreas team; this is where my passion for research grew over the next five and a half years.  

Research is meaningful because we can continually improve the way to treat patients. We can progress treatments for illnesses and diseases with an entire team of physicians, nurses, coordinators, ancillary medical staff, and patients. Knowing the struggles of treating, let alone curing, pancreatic cancer every day and that there is more we can do for a patient is a win for everyone–the team and, ultimately, the patients. That is my why, to give a person another day, a better day; that is the purpose.

 

2. What made you want to work in clinical research (and/or healthcare)?

I didn’t know what I was getting myself into; nursing school did not teach me about research. I just knew I liked a good challenge and did not worry about what each day would bring. Once I completed my orientation to research and was taking on the responsibility for my studies and patients, I quickly grew to love the excitement of possibly being part of something that would prolong the life or cure someone of this horrible cancer. When I started in 2015, pancreatic cancer had a 5-year survival rate of 7%, and this rate has only risen to 9% to date. In pancreatic cancer research, that is a HUGE success, even though much work still needs to be done. It is limitless because, as I said earlier, we can always treat patients better. So, we keep going on and on and on.  

I have always enjoyed helping others, but by doing research, I do so much for the greater good of others and medicine, possibly opening the door to a cure. I briefly took time away from work; it was only supposed to be six months but turned into nine. This time off was a planned break so I could dabble in possible new ventures before returning to nursing. The joy of nursing is that there are so many different types of nursing you can try other avenues. I took a position as a case manager/homecare nurse; although I love working with seniors, this place was not a good fit for me. That is when I came across Circuit Clinical, and I got excited that I found a role that fits me perfectly–I’m glad Jamie and Karen agreed. After taking some time away from research and nursing, not knowing what I wanted to do “when I grew up,” research again found me. I am glad to be part of the Circuit Clinical team.

 

3. What is an example of a story/article that inspires you about doing clinical research?

While working at UPenn Abramson Cancer Center, I met amazing people from all walks of life, from the medical staff that shares my passion for research to the unique patients that came to us for help.

While there, I was the research nurse for many studies, but two particularly stood out for Stage 4 pancreatic cancer patients. Both studies were for patients with BRCA or PALP2 mutations treated with platinum therapy for 16 weeks with no signs of progression.  

These studies were very successful for that specific group of patients. The patients that these treatments worked for extended their lives by years with little to no side effects from the medication, which was a pill that they either took once or twice per day. Many would respond that they must remind themselves that they have cancer because they feel well and can live life to its fullest. The longest patient in the research study has been taking the medication Rucaparib for almost seven years now and has no evidence of disease. Other patients also had their disease ultimately become undetectable. It was so amazing to see these people be able to live their lives to their fullest and not be constantly reminded of feeling ill from either their cancer or the treatment. These wins remind me of why I do what I do and my passion for research. For example, I read about people living with pancreatic cancer due to this remarkable medicine, and it always reminds me that the work I helped do is invaluable.

To read a similar article about someone living with pancreatic cancer, click here: https://pancan.org/stories/survivors/stage-iv-survivor-doing-well-thanks-to-clinical-trial/