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Cancer symptom science: Megan Miller, BSN '15, PhD '20

Spirituality has different meanings for everyone. For Megan Miller, BSN ‘15, PhD ‘20, a definition was needed to conduct her dissertation, which focused on the effects of spirituality for advanced breast cancer patients.

“What we came up with was the overall feeling of being connected with ourselves, nature and other people or beings,” Miller continued. “All of those brought together was how I defined spirituality.”

Megan Miller pictured with donors at 2019 Scholarships & Awards Banquet

Coming up with this definition was not an easy task. Through conducting interviews and using a quantitative research instrument developed by her mentor and Professor Emeritus Dr. Gwen Wyatt, Miller gathered data related to feelings about spirituality from over 250 breast cancer patients.

Miller is now using her knowledge about spirituality to expand on her research at the University of Wisconsin. As a postdoctoral fellow, Miller will focus on the effects of spirituality across all types of cancer patients.

The research hopes to find measurbale data that shows how practicing spirituality will reduce physical pain in patients. “We’re looking at pain-related catastrophizing, which is when negative beliefs and ruminations about your diagnosis affect your physical pain score,” says Miller. “Our focus is on determining whether spirituality can change their mindset, which results in less physical pain.”

While completing her postdoctoral work, Miller is fortunate to have received funding from a familiar face. Earlier this year, she was awarded the Emeline Hamilton Ph.D. Dissertation Award Endowment, which was established by her mentor Dr. Gwen Wyatt, in honor of her late mother. 

“She [Dr. Gwen Wyatt] is such a great mentor and gave me so many interesting responsibilities where I got to learn about different areas of research,” says Miller.

The feeling is mutual for Dr. Wyatt, and she has her  hopes set high, “Megan is inquisitive and creative. She explores issues at the edge of science where true research innovation is discovered.” says Dr. Wyatt.