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DocHOUSTON- For Diane Barber,  June 9 was not just another work day. She came in and in her own special way carried out her duties as an advanced practice nurse in Investigational Cancer Therapeutics in the Phase I Clinical Trials Program at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Little did she know that this day was going to be like no other and one she will always remember and cherish for the rest of her life.

Co-workers, friends and members of the selection committee surprised Barber as she was carrying out her daily duties with the news that she was selected as the recipient of the 2014 Ethel Fleming Arceneaux Outstanding Nurse-Oncologist Award – MD Anderson’s highest nursing honor.

Hardly able to catch her breath, this dedicated MD Anderson Cancer Center nurse accepted a plaque and bouquet of flowers amidst an uproar of applause.

“That was the proudest moment of my career,” said Barber, who has a Ph.D and been a nurse for 26 years. “Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I’d be nominated, let alone a finalist. And to win, I just keep thinking I’m in a dream and need to wake up.”

An MD Anderson committee comprising clinical faculty, patient care administration and nursing staff reviewed award nominations submitted by peers and patients. The committee then narrowed the selection to three finalists before ultimately naming Barber.

The Brown Foundation, Inc. established the award in 1982 as the institution’s highest nursing honor.

Barber came to MD Anderson in 1998 as a nurse in Bio-immunotherapy and has since served the Lymphoma/Myeloma and Integrative Medicine departments.

Barber recently took advantage of MD Anderson’s Nursing Cohort Program, which allowed her to earn a doctorate of philosophy in nursing while maintaining her full-time position.

Her love for nursing developed at an early age when she was 10.

“In the late 1960s, there was a TV program whose lead character was an African-American nurse named Julia,” she said. “It was the most awesome thing at that time because I didn’t have any health care role models in my family.”

Barber said her Phase I clinical trial patients, many who have advanced stage cancer that hasn’t responded to standard treatments, motivates her to give her all every day. With the use of new drugs, the program has the potential to make major strides in the fight against cancer.

“It’s amazing how our patients are willing to leave their homes, jobs and families to participate in our clinical trials, not even knowing if they’ll get any benefit,” she says. “Their courage, spirit and hope constantly inspire me.”

Patients frequently comment on Diane’s exceptional and professional manner of patient care.

One said, “Sunshine came shining through when I met Diane. She is an angel who touches patients with her smile and her motivational, contagious energy. The journey feels way easier when I see her. Diane has a passion for caring for people.”

Barber shares a mutual respect and compassion for everyone she cares for.

“I have the privilege of providing care to some of the most amazing patients and caregivers,” she said. “They enrich my life on a daily basis with their courage, spirit, hope and determination to beat cancer.”

With 26 years of experience, she remains passionate about cancer prevention.

As a member of several professional nursing and non-profit organizations, she regularly speaks at churches, health fairs and local businesses and thoroughly enjoys sharing her knowledge with the community.

“Every interaction, no matter how brief, has the potential to prompt someone to get a screening, mammogram or colonoscopy,” Barber said.

Barber received a cash award of $15,000, a crystal plaque and a commemorative pin Thursday in a  ceremony at the Onstead Auditorium in MD Anderson’s George and Cynthia Mitchell Basic Sciences Research Building. MD Anderson President Ron DePinho, M.D. led the award ceremony.

Aside from winning the Arceneaux Award, Barber said her greatest accomplishment is earning her doctorate of philosophy in nursing.  However, not looking back, she has a vision for her future that also includes nursing.

Barber, who already teaches nursing part time, plans to become a full-time professor when she retires from nursing. She feels it’s part of her purpose to help educate the next generation of nurses.