Jana Lomax helps cancer patients adjust to life after diagnosis
As a child, Jana Lomax, PsyD, sat at the dinner table listening to her parents’ conversations about the psychological needs of the patients they saw that day. Her father, an urologist, and mother, a nurse, often worried their patients wouldn’t get the support they desperately needed after learning about their cancer diagnosis or other life-threatening disease.
Once she became an adult, Lomax took those conversations to heart. She found a way to help cancer patients navigate cancer’s emotional journey, along with the physical one, and became a clinical health psychologist.
“My father would ask how to support those patients and where to send them. The options were limited in rural Indiana,” Lomax says. “I was lucky enough to find a career to meet that need.”
Lomax went to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, with the goal of finding a career to help people deal with the challenges that accompany cancer and chronic conditions. She earned a psychology degree and later completed a doctorate in clinical psychology at Illinois School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University in Chicago.
In 2004, Lomax moved to Colorado and found a position with University of Colorado Cancer Center’s Cancer Information and Counseling Line (CICL), a nationally recognized service offering free phone support for people with cancer and their families and friends. Lomax was finally meeting her goal of working in the oncology community. Eventually, she was offered a job in the Hematology Malignancies and Blood & Marrow Transplant Program.
Today, Lomax is a cancer prevention and control researcher at CU Cancer Center and director of psychosocial oncology at Exempla Saint Joseph Hospital and Exempla Good Samaritan Medical Center.
Leading a team of social workers, dietitians and residents, Lomax works with oncologists and allied health professionals to help cancer survivors manage the adjustments that come with their diagnoses. Regardless of age or stage of cancer, patients come to Lomax and her team to discuss
ways to cope with the fears, anxieties and stress a new cancer diagnosis can bring. Post-treatment, Lomax also helps patients find their way back to “normal” life or the “new normal.”
“Cancer can often motivate people to make meaningful life changes. They want to live a fulfilling life after facing mortality. I get to help them find meaning, have difficult conversations and resolve difficult relationships,” Lomax says. “I help people answer questions like: how do I make sure my 3-year-old remembers me as a good mother who lived fully?”
Lomax spends much of her time developing survivorship programs like CU Cancer Center’s LIVESTRONG Cancer Survivorship Program, which
offers clinical services for cancer survivors and assesses their ongoing needs.
“It’s satisfying to take what we know works for cancer survivors to a wider audience, especially to people who may not know how many resources are available now,” says Lomax, who is also working on a pilot program that makes information about cancer available online to those who are
Stress is one aspect of dealing with cancer that Lomax knows well, both from her patients’ perspectives and her own.
“The research we have is inconclusive in terms of mood and how that links to cancer progression. But there is evidence that chronic stress can affect our immune system. I help people do the work that may help them heal and manage their stress and hopefully reduce risks of recurrence, but at minimum improve their quality of life,” Lomax says. “I want to hear that they are angry; I want them to feel open to having bad days.
“But I want them to manage their stress differently and understand where that comes from and develop healthy, adaptive ways of coping. Whether that is deep breathing or throwing a pillow across the room or listening to music,” she says.
Because her job can also bring stress to her own life, Lomax dedicates uninterrupted time to her family and doesn’t make promises she can’t keep, a perspective she learned long ago at the kitchen table.
“I learned that perspective from my dad,” Lomax says. “Helping people is so rewarding so I focus on helping people live better and make the most of what they have.”