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Ellis honored for commitment and compassion

Serving others has been a lifetime calling for Cara Ellis. As a child, her parents taught her to appreciate what she had and to make the most of every opportunity. “I remember my father saying that he would love for his children to do some type of work where we are helping others,” Ellis recalls.

Hoosier Cancer Research Network (HCRN) recently honored Ellis, a clinical research coordinator at IU Health Central Indiana Cancer Centers, with the Sandra Turner Excellence in Clinical Research Award.

The award was established in 2002 by HCRN co-founder William B. Fisher, MD, through the George and Sarah Jane Fisher Fund to honor the memory of Sandra Turner, HCRN’s first executive director. Each year, HCRN selects individuals for the award who exemplify the qualities Turner possessed and respected in others, such as sustained professional commitment, contribution to the progress of oncology care, and the unflinching touch of compassion.

Ellis found her life course when she herself received compassionate care. “I was hospitalized at Riley Hospital for several weeks when I was six months old, and again at age six. I left there when I was six years old wanting to be a nurse. That plan never changed.”

After completing a diploma nursing degree, Ellis worked evening shifts in labor and delivery for about 10 years in the Terre Haute area. “Then I started having a family and realizing that I did not want to miss ball games and that sort of thing,” she said. “I was able to start at Eli Lilly in employee health nursing, taking care of plant site physicals and teaching CPR. I worked for Eli Lilly for about 10 years. It was during that time, my father had cancer, and that changed my world. Within two years of his death, my younger sister died of a rare unknown disease.”

Like stones thrown into water, those painful experiences led to a ripple of changes not only in Ellis’ life, but in the lives of those she would touch. “When they passed away, I knew that I needed to change what I was doing,” she said.

Rather than withdraw from the world of cancer, Ellis exerted a sustained commitment to contribute to progress in oncology care. “I had completed my BSN in nursing by that time,” she recalls, “and that is when I made the decision to work in cancer care.”

Since 1998, Ellis has worked with Central Indiana Cancer Centers, administering an unflinching touch of compassion in the treatments and day-to-day care of cancer patients. “I loved taking care of cancer patients. People would often say, ‘How can you take care of cancer patients? It’s such a dreary job.’ But I never looked at it that way,” Ellis said.

Ellis’ path turned toward research. “Seeing what was going on in some of the clinical trials, I thought, ‘What can I do to help find answers for all these questions about cancer? “

Over the course of her 18-year career, Ellis has witnessed many major advances, including the advent of targeted therapies and oral therapies. “I feel that we have come a long way, and feel grateful for the opportunity to serve others.” she said.

Ellis is known for her dedication, both to her patients and to the work that goes along with research. “The best part of my job is seeing and speaking with my patients,” she said. “I have probably been told I spend too much time with them.

“You kind of have to laugh when you look back at where you started,” she continued. “With research sometimes it is coming in early or staying late. They laugh at me and say, ‘Cara, I think I turned the lights off on you last night.’ Trying to get something done for a deadline, that is just a part of it.”

Her motivation to go above and beyond is simple: “It’s the passion to be there with your patient and do what you can to help them live,” Ellis said. “For any patient and family to know that we are doing everything we can to fight their cancer, to help them on those down days, to help them look up and find hope in a new day …no matter what the outcome may be.” Ellis said.

“As Hoosier Cancer Research Network works so hard to find clinical trials, I am the lucky one that gets to work with the patient and present it to them as a possibility.” Ellis shared.

Cara Ellis has had a long-standing relationship with the staff of Hoosier Cancer Research Network. “I look back at them through the years as an anchor for me,” she said. “They have always been very helpful to me, and I have appreciated that so much. I feel like I can always go to them for help and guidance.”

About Hoosier Cancer Research Network:

Hoosier Cancer Research Network (formerly known as Hoosier Oncology Group) conducts innovative cancer research in partnership with academic and community physicians and scientists across the United States and internationally. The organization provides comprehensive clinical trial management and support, from conception through publication. Created in 1984 as a program of the Walther Cancer Institute, Hoosier Cancer Research Network became an independent nonprofit clinical research organization in 2007. Since its founding, Hoosier Cancer Research Network has initiated more than 160 trials in a variety of cancer types and supportive care, resulting in more than 300 publications. More than 5,000 subjects have participated in Hoosier Cancer Research Network clinical trials.