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Angel of Cancer Care; Carol (Reed) Ash, Ed.D., RN, FAAN '60

Ash photo
Photo courtesy of Carol Ash

In 1960 scientists were just discovering the link between smoking and cancer, but the government wasn't convinced and neither were the tobacco companies.

"Cancer just simply wasn't talked about at that time," says Carol (Reed) Ash, Ed.D. '60. "It was a death sentence to have it and a taboo to speak of it."

After graduating from Albright with a degree in nursing, Ash headed to the bright lights of New York City where she eventually began working for what is today Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Here she was charged with designing the first education program in oncology nursing.

Breaking out of the mindset that cancer was taboo to speak of, she began training nurses, teaching them about cancer and how to help their patients. It was around this time that President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act. "Millions of dollars became available for research and it served as a catalyst for people to study and try to cure the disease," Ash says.

Soon after, she launched Cancer Nursing, the first professional journal on the subject, and remained senior editor for 28 years.

In 1986 Ash and her colleague Ruth McCorkle, M.D., began a quest to bring oncology education to nurses across the globe. "Nurses are the front line in treatment and they needed to be educated," she says.

The two began an international conference on oncology nursing, which targeted nurses from developing nations. They planned a training curriculum and proposed the idea to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). "It was ground-breaking work," she says. "The NCI was not funding projects like this. We were a first-of-a-kind."

The NCI gave Ash and McCorkle $35,856 to bring nurses to New York City for the conference. "We were thrilled," says Ash, "and then terrified. We realized that we had planned for everything except we had no idea how these various cultures and religions were going to mesh."

In the 15 years of the conference the pair trained 144 nurses from 71 countries and the mix of cultures was never a problem.

Each participant returned home, spreading the training they had received to other nurses. The conference has led to the first comprehensive cancer center in Jordan, a cancer screening and prevention program in Latvia and a prevention program in the schools of Poland.

After the tragic loss of her own husband to cancer in 1999, Ash was offered the Kirbo Endowed Chair of Oncology Nursing at the University of Florida, the first endowed chair in oncology nursing in the nation. "Gainesville reminded me of my hometown in Flemington, N.J., so I packed up my life and moved," she says proudly.

Ash retired at the end of 2005, but she has not stopped her continuum of care for those in need. She works with residents of her retirement community in Gainesville, Fla., and serves tirelessly with Haven Hospice.

For all of her work to advance cancer education, Ash received the 2012 Oncology Nursing Society Lifetime Achievement Award.

–David Johnson

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