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Profiles in Caring: Cancer Center Support Team Members

Erika JenschkeErika Jenschke, M.S., RD, LD
Memorial Hermann Cancer Center-Texas Medical Center

Growing up with a mother who believed strongly in good nutrition, Erika Jenschke learned to cook
at an early age. “My mom always made sure we had home-cooked meals, so I learned the importance of good nutrition,” Jenschke says. “We rarely dined out. Both of my parents are now 65 and have no chronic health conditions and take no medication. Even though nutrition was an important part of my life, I didn’t understand the clinical components of food as medicine until I was in school.”

Jenschke earned her master’s degree in nutrition at Texas Woman’s University in Houston in 2010, and after graduation, joined Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital as an inpatient dietitian. The oncology floor was one of her areas of responsibility.

She went on to work at the Memorial Hermann Cancer Center-The Woodlands and Memorial Hermann Cancer Center-Northeast, where she focused specifically on radiation therapy patients. “I especially loved working with my head-and-neck radiation patients,” she says. “I followed them closely every week because so much that affects eating can change in a matter of days – the ability to swallow and taste and the level of pain.”
Jenschke has been the oncology dietitian at Memorial Hermann-TMC for the past three years. She ensures that Memorial Hermann Cancer Centers meet the nutrition component of accreditation by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer.

She keeps close ties to Texas Woman’s University and gives an annual presentation on enteral nutrition to each new class of nutrition graduate students.

“Our goal for cancer patients is to ensure that they complete treatment with as few interruptions as possible – no hospitalizations and no delayed treatments,” she says. “If a patient receiving chemotherapy has lost 10 pounds and has abnormal lab results, the doctor may reduce dosage or delay chemotherapy that day. Adequate nutrition is an important part of the patient’s treatment regimen. It’s my job to remind them that food is also medicine.”
To learn more, contact Jenschke at erika.jenschke@memorialhermann.org.

Susan AbrahamSusan Abraham, M.A., M.Div., BCC
Memorial Hermann Cancer Center-Greater Heights

Originally from Kerala, India, Chaplain Susan Abraham received her master’s degree in economics at Fatima Mata National College in Kerala and her master’s of divinity at the University of Serampore, India. She taught in a seminary in India before relocating to Philadelphia in 1995, where she taught in a private school.
Chaplain Susan relocated to Houston in 2002, where a friend introduced her to chaplaincy. “I found it to be very people centered, which appealed to me,” she says. She went on to complete her chaplaincy training through the Memorial Hermann Clinical Pastoral Education Program. She is board certified by the Association of Professional Chaplains.

“I love my vocation, “she says. “It’s tremendously meaningful to me to make a profound impact on people who are physically, emotionally and spiritually hurting. We all work together to heal the body, mind and spirit.”

Kate MrazKate Mraz, CGC
Memorial Hermann Cancer Center-Texas Medical Center

In her role as a certified genetic counselor with the Cancer Risk Genetics Program at Memorial Hermann Cancer Center-TMC and McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, Kate Mraz sees between 25 and 40 patients each month, including new patients and those who return in follow-up. They meet with Mraz and a medical oncologist to discuss cancer risk assessment; if their personal or family history is suggestive of a hereditary cancer syndrome, they are offered genetic testing, if warranted.

“We also discuss ways to help lower cancer risk or take preventive measures on a personal level,” Mraz says. “Our team develops a personalized cancer surveillance plan for each patient’s needs, and we help them navigate their care.
We also address the cancer risk of family members and make recommendations for evaluation and testing for a large spectrum of cancer histories in addition to hereditary pancreatitis. Genetic testing can help identify moderate-risk and high-risk patients. If patients and their families do not have an identifiable genetic predisposition, risk models are sometimes used to clarify if changes to cancer screening are warranted.”

Because genetics is a rapidly advancing field, Mraz has to keep up with the literature. “For example, if we find either BRCA1 or BRCA2 or a lower-risk gene to be mutated or not working, we follow National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) recommendations for BRCA-related cancer risk in addition to considering updated literature. We also follow each of these patients in our clinic. Maybe a woman just had breast surgery and hasn’t yet made plans for ovarian cancer risk management, is a candidate for high-risk pancreatic surveillance or has family members who would benefit from testing and she wants to learn more about their options. It’s a lot to deal with, and I help them navigate the process by providing information. We make recommendations about how to proceed so that they can make informed choices.”

Emilia Dewi, OTR, O.T.D., CLT
TIRR Memorial Hermann Outpatient Rehabilitation-Memorial City

Cancer patients make up 60 percent of Emilia Dewi’s occupational therapy practice. Originally from Indonesia, Dewi came to the United States in 2003 to attend Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark.
“I was interested in neuropsychology and after graduation had planned to get my doctorate in neuroscience,” she says.

“I was an assistant in a research lab doing studies with stroke patients. Research is vital to advancing knowledge, but I wanted to see the difference I was making in people’s lives firsthand. I went to observe occupational therapy and liked the focus on solving real-world problems – helping people find new ways to get on with their lives.”
Dewi says the field of oncology found her while she was a scholarship doctoral student in occupational therapy at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “I was paired with a project to develop the beginning of a cancer rehabilitation program, although we weren’t yet calling it that at the time,” she says.

After finishing her program in 2010, she accepted a position at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. While there, she enrolled in a course in Neuro-IFRAH® (Neuro-Integrative Functional Rehabilitation and Habilitation) for the treatment and management of patients affected by stroke or brain injury, held at TIRR Memorial Hermann.

“I was impressed by the instructors and thought that TIRR was an amazing place, so I applied for a job, had an interview a month later, and moved to Houston a month after that,” she says.

Certification as a lymphedema therapist in 2013 moved her closer to oncology. “I thought my involvement with cancer rehabilitation was in the past, but when TIRR Memorial Hermann made the decision to expand their lymphedema services, I thought it was meant to be, and I offered to take the certification test.”

Dewi is driven by a desire to educate patients early about what their cancer journey may look like. “At the beginning, cancer patients are focused on getting through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy,” she says. “For most patients, a change of lifestyle is necessary to maximize their new normal. That’s why I’m passionate about rehabilitation and prehabilitation. Cancer treatment can create lifelong changes – knowing what to expect is half the journey. Learning to cope with them is the other half. I like helping with both.”

Kate MahanKate Mahan, M.S.S.W., LMSW, OSW-C
Memorial Hermann Cancer Center-Northeast
Memorial Hermann Cancer Center-The Woodlands

A healthcare social worker for 19 years, Kate Mahan has served as an oncology social worker for Memorial Hermann since 2011. She provides direct care for patients at the Memorial Hermann Cancer Center-Northeast and Memorial Hermann Cancer Center-The Woodlands.

Mahan, who is oncology certified through the Board of Oncology Social Work, covers both Cancer Centers simultaneously. “If I’m physically in one location, I’m remotely available to clinicians and patients at the other,” she says.

She also provides psychosocial support and education talks, and facilitates the caregiver support group at Canopy, a unique survivorship center at Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Hospital dedicated to shifting the conversation from experiencing cancer to living and celebrating life at every stage of cancer treatment. She served as the psychosocial coordinator for the Memorial Hermann Integrated Network Cancer Committee several times between 2012 and 2017, reviewing data and reporting on the distress screening process across the system. Screening cancer patients for psychosocial distress is a standard of care requirement of the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer, a major accrediting group for Memorial Hermann oncology services.

A psychology graduate of the University of Houston, Mahan went on to receive her master’s degree in social work at The University of Texas at Austin. She completed a clinical internship at the National Institutes of Health, where she worked with the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases.

A native of Wilmington, Del., she joined Memorial Hermann after working with HIV/AIDS patients for nine years at the Montrose Clinic, now Legacy Community Health.

To contact Mahan, email her at katharine.mahan@memorialhermann.org.

Rhonda Sherman, Ph.D.
Psychologist- Oncology
Dr. Rhonda Sherman has a longstanding sense of connectedness with Memorial Hermann. She grew up in the hallways of Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center, where her father and mother practiced psychology and psychotherapy, respectively, and she was a Junior Volunteer.

A psychologist in private practice, Dr. Sherman has an office at Memorial Hermann Memorial City, where she has staff privileges and is available for referrals and consultation to medical staff and patients. About 40 percent of her practice focuses on oncology patients or oncology-related clients.

“In working with oncologists and cancer centers over the past 20 years, we all have become more aware of the core need to identify and address the psychological aspects of a cancer diagnosis and treatment,” she says.
“Early engagement of a psychologist as part of the team is the very best way to improve patient outcomes and long-term recovery.”

She completed her doctoral dissertation in 1995 at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y.; her area of research was sexual and psychological functioning of bone marrow transplant survivors. She went on to complete her internship in health psychology at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Long Beach, Calif., and did postdoctoral training in HIV, oncology and pain management. Following her postdoctoral training, she joined City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif. Dr. Sherman has 20 years of experience and holds a membership in the American Psychosocial Oncology Society.

“I learned a long time ago that cancer patients may have the same age, same diagnosis, same treatment and same gender but the psychological and psychosocial issues may be different,” she says. “I complete a very thorough assessment and psychological evaluation when I first meet clients to assess their acute symptoms and to uncover their deeper issues. Depression, anxiety, body image issues, mortality and fear of recurrence are very common. Some individuals, who are cancer free, are struggling with survivorship issues, sexuality, their careers or their roles within the family. A psychologist can help physicians uncover the underlying issues.”

To refer a patient or contact Dr. Sherman, call 281.910.1649.

*TIRR is a registered trademark of TIRR Foundation