Growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Grace Kanzawa-Lee’s twin passions were science and sports. “I’ve always been interested in research and digging deeper, going beyond the surface,” she says. Her parents encouraged her to be physically active and supported her participation in team sports, including softball and cross country. “Exercise has personally been very important to me,” she says.
At the University of Michigan, Kanzawa-Lee’s running, participation in club and intramural sports, nursing, and elective courses on exercise physiology all came together, opening her eyes to how “exercise is medicine,” she says, citing the famous American College of Sports Medicine slogan. “I realized how extremely therapeutic it can be—it’s one of the greatest coping mechanisms.”
Big Steps in the Right Direction
Kanzawa-Lee’s passion for research was confirmed early in her undergraduate career as a nursing student in the honors program, where she met the professor who would become her mentor and inspiration in the Hillman Scholars in Nursing Innovation program: Ellen Lavoie Smith, PhD, APRN, AOCN®, FAAN. Dr. Smith’s research program focuses on improving the assessment and treatment of chronic, cancer-related neuropathic pain, with a specialty focus in painful chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. She has received independent research funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Oncology Nursing Society, the American Cancer Society, and Dartmouth, among others.
Exercise as Medicine
Kanzawa-Lee is an ardent advocate for clinical nursing and wants to make sure it remains part of her life, either through practicing or volunteering. The PhD program has helped her think more broadly, beyond the clinic, and has provided opportunities to attend large conferences, meet key expert clinicians and researchers in exercise oncology, and participate in exciting multidisciplinary discussions that have further expanded her vision of what is possible and how research may inform more holistic care of patients with cancer. It has opened the door to a career as a researcher and change maker.
Combining her research training with patient-informed insights from the bedside, she developed and is now testing a home-based walking program that may one day benefit a portion of the approximately 650,000 cancer patients who receive chemotherapy each year.
Going Deeper, Farther
During her challenging journey through the Hillman Scholars program, Kanzawa-Lee has started to think beyond her own research to how it fits into the bigger picture of building a culture of health. By that, she means working toward a more holistic approach that encompasses physical and mental health, and emotional, social, and spiritual well-being.
Kanzawa-Lee recognizes that large-scale, structural changes will be required to build a culture that supports and reinforces healthy behaviors at every level, and at times against great odds. She knows it won’t happen quickly or easily. But she wants her career and research to play an important part in advancing that audacious goal.