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There are more than 15 million survivors in the United States, and this population is growing due in part to advances in prevention and treatment strategies. Although she is busy preparing for UNC Lineberger’s Cancer Survivors Day on Saturday, June 9, Deborah K. Mayer, PhD, RN, AOCN, FAAN, director of cancer survivorship at UNC Lineberger, took a few moments to discuss how she became involved in the field.

Deborah K. Mayer, PhD, RN, AOCN, FAAN, director of cancer survivorship at UNC Lineberger.

Deborah K. Mayer, PhD, RN, AOCN, FAAN, is passionate about helping cancer survivors through the transition from active treatment to the “new normal.”

As director of cancer survivorship for the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, Mayer leads research into survivorship planning and care at UNC Lineberger and works with breast cancer survivors at the N.C. Cancer Hospital. She also is a professor in the UNC School of Nursing, helping train new nurses, oncology nurses, nurse practitioners and researchers.

Mayer says she could not imagine this job for herself when she began her career as a nurse. The concept of cancer survivorship care didn’t exist, as cancer survival rates were significantly lower in the 1970s when she launched her career. That has changed with progress in cancer detection and treatment over these decades, as there are now more than 15 million survivors in the United States.

Mayer has had a national voice on cancer survivorship issues. She consults for the National Cancer Institute, and she was as a member of Vice President Biden’s National Cancer Moonshot Initiative’s Blue Ribbon Panel.

Mayer, who is currently planning UNC Lineberger’s annual Cancer Survivors Day celebration on Saturday, June 9, took a few minutes to speak about her cancer and her focus on improving cancer survivorship care and services.

How did you get into nursing?

According to my mother, I always wanted to be a nurse. I went in straight from high school, and I’ve been a nurse since 1973. I’ve never questioned that. I always loved what I do and it’s a great fit. The greatest change from (then) to now is that care has gotten much more complex, and there are many more people delivering it. There also are more people living with cancer, but most people have had some residual issues. We help them deal with it the best as possible.

How did you get into cancer survivorship research?

I’ve been a cancer nurse for a really long time, and the last 10 to 15 years (the field of cancer care) really has shifted from being focused on treating patients to thinking about what happens to them after their treatment and their living with disease. I ended up doing my PhD dissertation on the health behaviors of cancer survivors, and then I started my path down that road of doing more survivorship work.

What has been the biggest change in cancer survivorship?

When I first started out there was no such concept of cancer survivorship care. People didn’t live long enough. That’s changed since the 1980s, where more people were saying “now what happens to me now that this all this is over?” Over the last couple of decades there has been attention paid to what happens to people after they’ve been diagnosed and treated. It’s really the last 10 plus years that it’s gotten a lot more traction.

What do you love about your position with UNC Lineberger?

Everything. It’s a wonderful place to work because of the mission of the university, and of the cancer center, and because of the colleagues that I work with, and the patients I take care of, and the students I work with – they’re all exceptional.

If you weren’t doing this, what career could you see yourself doing?

This has been my passion my whole career, and I have had so many experiences and opportunities to work on improving cancer care. I can’t imagine something else. I could certainly imagine myself doing other things like traveling and enjoying what North Carolina has to offer.

Are you or a loved one a cancer survivor? Do you have questions about life after cancer? If so, please consider attending UNC Lineberger’s annual Cancer Survivors Day celebration on Saturday, June 9, at the William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education, 100 Friday Center Drive, in Chapel Hill. The event is free, including parking and lunch, and is focused on providing information from UNC Lineberger faculty, answering your questions, and building connections. We’re thrilled to have Chris Draft, former NFL player and cancer advocate, as our keynote speaker. We do ask that you pre-register to help us plan: or 844-496-2287.