An Extraordinary Healer essay honoring IVY BREWSTER, RN, OCN [CHARGE NURSE, ST. JOSEPH HEALTH, HUMBOLDT PEALS FAMILY CHEMOTHERAPY OUTPATIENT CENTER, EUREKA, CALIFORNIA]
Marci Dahl and Ivy Brewster, RN, OCN PHOTOS BY JULIE BRANSON
Over the course of the past two years, our chemotherapy department and our patients have been through mergers and continuous change on the business side of oncology health care. This has ultimately led to a stronger, better oncology department, but has put some of our most vulnerable patients in a quandary about where to get their treatment and which practitioners to follow. This is doubly impacted when you consider the remoteness of our North Coast California community and how the barriers to care, transportation and roads, as well as severe weather, can impact what are routine logistics for other communities.
Even though we are located in an isolated and rural environment, we are accredited by the Commission on Cancer at the comprehensive community cancer center level. We follow national guidelines here at St. Joseph Health, and we offer comprehensive medical oncology services to treat cancer using chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, immunotherapy and targeted therapy at our outpatient clinic, where Ivy is charge nurse. We provide patients and their families with stateof- the-art treatment options that take advantage of advanced techniques in medical oncology available to treat cancer. We also have a robust clinical research program, including participation in national clinical trials that are available to patients with certain conditions. We see over 1,000 patients each month at our chemotherapy clinic.
Ivy Brewster runs our busy chemotherapy center with all of our patients’ best interests at heart. This was especially true for an anxious patient with stage 4 breast cancer who was so troubled by the changes in practitioners and businesses that she decided to go out of the area to stay with her medical oncologist of preference. This is the patient’s choice — and very difficult to coordinate. Not just for continued coordination of care and treatment, but this choice meant commitment to a five-hour drive (one way), and was often fraught with natural and man-made complications.
With Ivy’s assistance, this patient was able to continue chemotherapy here at home with a local medical oncologist cooperating with the out-of-area oncologist of the patient’s preference. This significantly impacted the patient’s experience by allowing her to stay here for the treatment portion of her care.
The main reason this patient felt comfortable continuing treatment at home was because of the special bond she had with Ivy. What this patient does not realize is that this is not just a special bond between her and Ivy; this is how Ivy makes everyone feel — including our entire staff and physicians! Talking to Ivy, you feel as if your concerns are hers, and that she will move mountains to help you.
If patients or our staff members have any problems, they know they can go to Ivy and she will straighten it out. Every day she is at the chairside helping patients navigate and clarify whatever they are in need of. Often, this involves asking the doctors questions that patients are unable to voice, and Ivy gets in there and advocates for them. She always finds ways to figure it out, leaving everyone satisfied on the receiving end.
Some leaders are in place by where they are listed on the organizational chart or by how many initials are listed after their last names. Ivy is the colleague we all look to for leadership because it comes from within her, no matter what her title.
Ivy always knew she would be a nurse, but it wasn’t until her fourth year of nursing school, when she worked on an oncology floor, that it all clicked for her and she found her passion. After spending time on the oncology unit, she was hooked. Ivy loved the patients, and spending time with them fed something deep in her soul.
As Ivy’s career progressed, she moved through acute oncology to a private chemotherapy office practice, and now leads here at SJH Health as our outpatient chemotherapy charge nurse.
While the day-to-day details of oncology can be overwhelming at times, Ivy is where she belongs. Her career and her heart are in oncology, and it must have been divine intervention that led her to us. She was born to be here and working and serving in our rural community.