The tragic passing of Dr. Lisa Stearns

Dear Friends,

I write on behalf of the Cancer Pain Research Consortium’s (CPRC) leadership with a heart overwhelmed by grief to communicate the news that our dear friend and most esteemed colleague, Dr. Lisa Stearns, passed away yesterday at her home in Mexico.

As a physician, she was a valiant warrior. Her pursuit of novel methods, innovation, and creative approaches contributed widely to the practice of pain medicine globally. Courageous, stubbornly committed, and always compassionate, she was one of the heroes in the epidemic of pain and suffering.

Dr. Stearns was one of our founding Board Members, and her vision of medical practice and her determination to relieve the burdens of pain and suffering is the foundation upon which we’ve built this organization. She was committed to helping patients find their lives beyond a painful diagnosis while also interceding for the dying. To her, medicine could always do better and so she championed research and education with her time, talents, and her personal funds.

Years ago, the CPRC established the Stearns Lecture as a humble attempt to honor Lisa’s exemplary qualities: compassionate care, thought-provoking contributions to scholarship, and a patient-centered focus. At last year’s Annual Conference, Lisa delivered a lecture on death and dying in her cancer pain practice. She talked about death and the afterlife. She discussed how her patients of various cultures celebrated their life, anticipated death, pondered the afterlife, and grieved with their families. Her compassion for people – the people who trusted her to be their doctor, her colleagues, friends, and family – was beautifully displayed in her telling of these personal stories.

Dr. Stearns meant so much to this community because she connected to people without reservation, without prejudice, and without fear. She expressed what she felt and thought, was courageous enough to admit her insecurities, and asked questions. She allowed so many of us to follow her, to work alongside her, and to call her with questions. She gave us opportunities to collaborate, to learn, and to be exposed to whatever she thought, saw, felt, or knew. She carried the pain and suffering of her patients, the criticism of her peers, and the concern over not doing enough. She interceded and intervened for all of us.

As the reality of losing Lisa sets in, memories of her swell. To honor Dr. Stearns and to encourage our community in response, I invite you to send memories, thoughts, lessons learned, and pictures of Dr. Stearns to: I will be working with the Board to curate these in a digital scrapbook. As other opportunities to honor Dr. Stearns become known, I will share them as well. I know that Lisa believed in the afterlife, and I thank you for joining me in grieving the loss of our dear friend and colleague.

With great love and respect,
Heather Basara Richter, PhD
Board of Directors, Cancer Pain Research Consortium