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Eileen Parinisi Dimond ’85: Pioneering for Science

Eileen Parinisi Dimond ’85: Pioneering for Science
Eileen Parinisi Dimond ’85

As a member of Scranton’s first graduating class of nursing students, this alumna has charged ahead without a road map, encouraging her patients to take risks, too.

The word “trailblazer” gets thrown around a lot these days. For Eileen Parinisi Dimond ’85, though, it actually fits.

In 1985, she was part of The University of Scranton’s first graduating class of nursing students. From there, she went on to a deeply rewarding career at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Rockville, Maryland, where she’s been an integral part of research teams responsible for numerous innovations in the treatment of the disease.

After many years on the treatment side of cancer care, Dimond now serves as a program director/nurse consultant in the NCI’s Division of Cancer Prevention’s Breast and Gynecologic Cancer Research Group. Here, she works on innovative, early phase clinical trials aimed at preventing cancers in women at risk, among them breast, ovarian, endometrial and cervical.

Meanwhile, she’s also the co-lead of a task force focused on research to address cardiotoxicity (harm to the heart), which develops in many cancer patients as a result of their treatments. That work has resulted in Dimond receiving awards from both the Directors of the NCI and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NCI is one of the largest Institutes within the NIH, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

“I’m so blessed to do the work I do; I love it,” said Dimond, who lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with her husband of 30 years, Leo, who was also Jesuit educated. “All these things I’ve been able to do throughout my career, one builds on the other. If there’s one thing I can ever say to other nurses, your experiences are never wasted. With each new experience, you bring what you learned with you.”

A Patient

For Dimond, a native of Scranton’s Tripp Park section, those experiences began at the University in 1981, when she joined the first-ever cohort of nursing students. Dimond’s interest in nursing came as a result of suffering from congenital hip dysplasia as a child.

“I had a lot of surgeries and was continually exposed to doctors, nurses and hospitals,” she said. “Because I was a patient, I gained an empathy that allowed me to be a better nurse.”

At Scranton, Dimond and her fellow students learned under the tutelage of a first-class team of nursing professors led by Rosellen Garrett, Ph.D., C.R.N.P.

“Dr. Garrett was tough, but she had high integrity, and she really, really put together a fabulous program. We were cherished and well-taught,” Dimond said. “She would say to us, ‘We can’t teach you everything in this program, but we will teach you how to find out what you need to know.’ She taught us how to learn. And you know what, I never stopped learning. I learn something every day from the brilliant people I work with at NCI, and that love of learning came from the University.”

Upon graduating with honors in 1985, Dimond kept her Jesuit ties strong by taking a job as a nurse at Georgetown University’s hospital in Washington, D.C.

Her ultimate goal, though, was to work in the Clinical Center, the hospital of the NIH in Bethesda. However, when she first applied there, the Center wasn’t accepting new graduates. A few months later, though, the NIH called the home of her parents, Pete and Margi Parinisi.

“They said, ‘We are beginning a program for newly graduated nurses, would Eileen like the job?’ And my mom, to her great credit, said, ‘Well, you’ll have to talk to her,’” recalled Dimond, the 1995 recipient of the University’s Superior Achievement in Nursing Award. “That call would set the course for my incredible career in public service.”

Dimond happily accepted the offer and again became a pioneer of sorts as part of the NCI’s first Cancer Nurse Training Program. From then on, she said, “I never looked back; I loved oncology (cancer) nursing.”

Within the NCI’s inpatient research program in the NIH Clinical Center, Dimond spent her early years treating medical oncology, bone marrow transplant and HIV/AIDS patients.

Advancing Science

Eventually, Dimond earned her master’s degree from the University of Maryland at Baltimore while continuing to work in myriad positions at the NCI. As a clinical nurse specialist in oncology, she mentored and taught other nurses, and was recognized as the NIH Clinical Center’s “Distinguished Nurse.” In addition, she worked with the initial families tested for genetic mutations indicating high risks of cancer and was among the first health care providers anywhere to administer AZT to AIDS patients and Taxol to women with ovarian cancer.

“To be a part of these new treatments was amazing,” she said. “The word is thrown around too much, but the patients on our clinical trials truly are heroes. You have to be so courageous to say, ‘I’m going to try this research study, and even if it doesn’t benefit me, it could benefit someone else down the road.’ If they weren’t willing, we could never advance the science of cancer treatments and our understanding of this devastating disease.”

dimond2.jpgIn recent years, Dimond has also worked with the NCI’s Office of Communication and Education, and the NCI Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP) where her efforts focused on supporting community cancer centers throughout the country involved in cancer research.

Dimond’s been a good spokesperson for the NIH, too. About five years ago, she and two of her oncology nursing colleagues since the mid-’80s talked about their work with cancer patients on research studies at the NCI with StoryCorps, the well-known nonprofit dedicated to recording oral histories of everyday Americans. Their story is now in the Library of Congress. Francis Collins, M.D., NIH director, was so impressed with the recording that he played it during an NIH Advisory Committee to the Director meeting. “He seemed proud of what we shared, conveying ‘This is the kind of dedicated staff we have at the NIH,’” said Dimond, still touched by Collins’ generosity of spirit.

Besides her work, Dimond is deeply inspired by her three children, twins Michael and Maggie and daughter Grace, who has decided to follow her mother into the nursing profession and recently gained admittance to a top-flight New Graduate Nurse Residency program at Georgetown.

“I couldn’t be more proud as a parent,” Dimond said. She was only disappointed about the fact that she had lost her nursing pin from 1985 so wouldn’t be able to wear hers to Grace’s pinning. Dimond’s sister, Kathleen — also a Scranton alumna and “woman of faith and for others” according to Dimond — found a way to get her a replacement pin, so that she could wear it on graduation.

Dimond is also guided by her strong faith, which resulted in her returning to the University this past summer for the second annual Diocese of Scranton Catholic Women’s Conference. Every time she returns, Dimond finds herself marveling at how much the campus has grown. What will never change, though, is her enduring appreciation for the education she received at Scranton and the life-changing work she’s been able to do as a result of it.

“I have a tremendous amount of gratitude because of the many blessings God has given me, including the education my parents gave me, the work I’ve done, and the perspective I’ve received,” she said. “When you work with people who have cancer or are at risk for cancer you get to know what really matters in life.”

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