UNMC News

Advocate for cancer research, Liz Karnes, dies

picture disc.Liz Karnes, an Omaha community leader who inspired many during her battle with cancer and various complications, died Thursday morning (April 24) at her home. She was 53.

"Liz was not just a strong advocate for Omaha, but she also was a strong advocate for UNMC and the Eppley Cancer Center," said Ken Cowan, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Eppley Cancer Center. "She was very open with her dealing with cancer and never hesitated to tell people about the benefits of cancer research. She felt very strongly that people could get the best care for their cancer right here at UNMC. She was always willing to come forward and help educate people dealing with cancer and try to make them feel more comfortable."

Karnes began her battle with ovarian cancer in 1991 and endured extensive treatments and occasional setbacks. Still, she continually inspired others with her courage and positive attitude. She was seen at UNMC earlier this week for management of her symptoms.

"The University of Nebraska and University Foundation have lost a great friend and advocate whose leadership will be deeply felt," said John Niemann, senior vice president of the University of Nebraska Foundation's Omaha office. "A friend and benefactor to UNMC and UNO, more recently Dr. Karnes was appointed to serve on the Prostate Cancer Research Board at UNMC. The Foundation extends its most sincere sympathy to her husband David, her daughters and all of the Karnes family."

picture disc.In recent years, Karnes participated in two news conferences at UNMC/NHS. One dealt with ovarian cancer, while the other dealt with a special nutritional program UNMC physicians had her on. During the 2001 news conference, Karnes urged women to meet with UNMC's gynecological oncologists, saying: "People said I had to go to Houston or Washington, D.C., but one of the best places in the world to be treated is right here (at UNMC)."

In 2002, Karnes served as the Bouquet of Hope spokeswoman and received a "Spirit of Hope" award. The program supports cancer research at UNMC's Eppley Cancer Center.

A 1967 graduate of Westside High School, Karnes was active in the educational sector, serving on the Westside Community Schools Board of Education for 17 years. She earned a bachelor's of science, master's in education and doctorate in education from the University of Nebraska Lincoln.

"Nobody ever knew when Liz was feeling good or feeling bad," Dr. Cowan said. "She was always feeling good. She was so vivacious and full of energy. I'll miss her vitality, her smile and her enthusiasm. She was an incredibly courageous lady…a real friend."

Karnes is survived by her husband, former U.S. Sen. David Karnes, and their four grown daughters, Korey, Kalen, Kara and Laurel. Services will be Monday, although details are pending.