Breast cancer treatment whirls in like a tornado, with a barrage of appointments for operations, infusions and radiation therapy. As women recover and return to their jobs, their children and their faith, the tumors may vanish — but the disease has forever changed the women’s lives.
City of Hope researcher Kimlin Tam Ashing-Giwa can testify to it.
Ashing-Giwa, Ph.D., listens compassionately to patients’ stories of illness, struggle and survivorship, so that their lives become lessons on how to better care for everyone with cancer.
“I want to tap into survivors’ resilience,” she explained.
Ashing-Giwa, who recently joined City of Hope as a professor of population sciences, directs the new Center of Community Alliance for Research & Education (CCARE), which turns research on health care and survivorship into practical public interventions. With several million dollars’ worth of grants backing her work, Ashing-Giwa wants to lessen the burden of illness on the population — encompassing every color, culture and creed.
“Dr. Ashing-Giwa joins the City of Hope as an accomplished research scientist and professor with expertise in the psychological, socoiecological, and cultural aspects of cancer control, health disparities and behavioral medicine,” said Smita Bhatia, M.D., M.P.H., chair of the Division of Population Sciences and professor of pediatrics. “Her vast experience in research with multiethnic and underrepresented groups will position her to serve as a highly qualified leader for promoting cancer awareness among underserved populations.”
Raised in Trinidad by her Afro-Caribbean mother and Chinese father, Ashing-Giwa grew up knowing that culture and surroundings influence how people think and act. That molded her into an investigator who mixes elements of psychology, anthropology, nursing, epidemiology and other disciplines into her research.
Today, her group studies Southern California cancer survivors to understand how factors such as wealth and income, education, ethnicity, language, culture and community surroundings account for gaps in health care and well-being. With their findings, the researchers design ways to reduce cancer risk and improve patients’ care and quality of life.
They will implement community programs, offering culturally relevant education ranging from how to talk to a physician to how to access health screenings.
A clinical psychologist who spent the last 12 years at UCLA, Ashing-Giwa recently completed two studies on women with breast and cervical cancer that had greater multi-ethnic representation than any other studies in the nation. The studies included many low-income women, giving Ashing-Giwa and her colleagues a unique window into health care in society.
And the studies continue. Ashing-Giwa soon will begin a $1.6 million American Cancer Society-funded project aimed at reducing the burden of cervical cancer, as well as a study examining social support among Samoan breast cancer survivors, funded by the California Breast Cancer Research Program.
She also is co-principal investigator on a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-funded study of long-term survivors of gynecologic cancers, as well as another NCI-backed study on sexual functioning among African-American breast cancer survivors. In the future, Ashing-Giwa plans to study survivorship among both women and men with colon cancer. The Department of Defense and Komen Foundation also fund her work.
Ashing-Giwa deeply understands the impact of cancer: Her mother and father succumbed to it. “My parents’ illnesses shaped my career…and definitely my world view — that life is precious, that family and community are to be valued, honored and respected,” she said.
Besides her deep community involvement, Ashing-Giwa also mentors young scientists from a variety of backgrounds and fosters their research.
Numerous groups have spotlighted her contributions, including the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which recently honored her for her research on cervical cancer among the underserved.
Ashing-Giwa is a member of the American Psychological Association, the Association of Black Psychologists and the American Psycho-Oncology Society. She earned her bachelor’s in psychology from Cal State Long Beach and master’s and doctoral degrees in clinical psychology from the University of Colorado at Boulder.