Dr. Karen Syrjala


Karen Syrjala, PhD

Helping cancer survivors get the most out of life

Dr. Karen Syrjala says the best thing about working with cancer survivors is their eagerness to live life to the fullest.

“I feel honored to do my job, because I am working with people at a time of life when they’re most open to new experiences and they’re most able to make changes in their lives,” she said.

Syrjala is the founding co-director the Survivorship Program since its launch in 2006.

Syrjala, who also serves as director of the Center’s Biobehavioral Sciences Program, found the opportunity a natural next step, given her research expertise and interest in the physical and psychological aftereffects of cancer. She understood that former patients wanted to share and learn from information on how to improve quality of life.

“My survivorship work prior to the Survivorship Program was really driven by people saying, ‘This is what we’re experiencing after treatment – don’t you want to know about it?’” Syrjala said.

An important role of the program – as she sees it – is to leverage survivorship research findings to help patients and physicians monitor and minimize cancer’s late- and long-term effects.

Positives as well as negatives can be gleaned from the research, Syrjala said, citing findings that patients can experience improved relationships with parents and spouses following a bout with cancer and treatment.

“There’s an increased sense of purpose in the lives of these former patients because they’ve learned what matters most,” she said. “The Survivorship Program gives people a launching point and a road map for their health and well-being into the future.”