Hi. I’m Susan Ferrara, MSN, FNP-C.

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Introduction

I received an email this week that gave me pause. It was from a cancer survivor who downloaded Brio’s Morning Checklist. The email read, “Who exactly are you? Where did you go to school to become a nurse?”

I knew instantly this person was suspicious and concerned I didn’t really know what I was talking about. Maybe she thought I was trying to scam her somehow.

I wrote back to her and explained myself. I referred her to the “About” page on my website for further information about me and Brio Survivor Wellness. Then I went to the page I’d referred her to and realized there is very little information about me there.

No wonder she didn’t know who the heck I am.

From the outset I’ve wanted Brio to be about Cancer Survivors and their journey to wellness. That’s part of the reason I don’t talk about myself. It’s very intentional. But I also realize you’ve let me into your lives by allowing me to send you emails every week. My intention is to help, but maybe I can give back differently by letting you know who I am, by letting you in on a few details of my life, for a change.

Another reason I don’t talk about myself is because I’m not interested in taking the spotlight - ever! I can’t stand public speaking and am definetely an introvert. After a long day of my highly interactive work, I crave solitude because it settles and energizes me. As far as socializing, I definetely prefer to sit in the corner at parties with one or two friends and talk quietly.

Actually, what am I saying? I don’t go to parties.

OK, you get the point - writing a blog post about myself is a huge stretch for me, but I think you deserve to know.

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The Basics

I grew up in Northern California and had a happy childhood. I went to public school, all the way through. I come from a family of educators. My dad trained as a P.E. Teacher but went into school and district administration after working ten years as a classroom teacher. I have one older sister. My mom raised us at home until I was in second or third grade. My Mom then went to work as a High School Librarian. My sister is also a teacher.

School Days

I went to UC Santa Cruz (mascot: banana slug, no joke) and earned a B.A. in Molecular Biology in 1996. I chose my major because it was hard, which I now think is a super silly reason. If I could choose again, I would major in literature and become a writer. If you’re familiar with UC Santa Cruz, you know the frustrated writer bit goes without saying because most people who graduate from U.C. Santa Cruz are frustrated writers by definition.

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I worked at a bagel store when I was a Junior in college and met my husband Brent there. He was a college educated, creative surf bum and was a bit older than me, which of course is the magic formula to attract young women of my ilk. We’ve been together ever since. He’s really not a bum. He’s an artist with a Master’s of Fine Art in Painting. He’s also a talented, dedicated high school art teacher.

After college, I moved to San Francisco. It was the boom town 90’s and I had a lot of carefree, post collegiate fun. I lived there about three years and worked lame jobs. Then I decided I wanted to be a Nurse Practitioner because I wanted to “work with people” (said the 25 year old girl in a grey cubicle). I applied to nursing programs and moved to New York City to attend Columbia University School of Nursing where I received a BSN in Nursing in 2000 and a MSN in Nursing in 2002.

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Career

I began practicing as a Family Nurse Practitioner right after graduating from Columbia. I received a National Health Service Corp Scholarship where my nursing school tuition was paid in return for service in an under served area of the U.S. I did my service in a community clinic in the South Bronx. I have fond memories of those early clinic years. Starting as a newbie NP is daunting, but the people of the South Bronx are incredibly warm and supportive. They put up with me and even forced me to learn Spanish because it was spoken almost exclusively there, by patients and staff alike.

I then moved on to work in a large hospital in NYC. I covered a medicine service at night, answering routine pages and responding to emergencies. It was my first experience taking care of Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplant patients. I spent a disproportionate amount of time on the oncology specialty floors because the patients needed a great deal of care and the staff always had food to offer a hungry NP at 3 a.m.

In 2006, My husband and I decided to move back to Northern California to be closer to family. We left the Big Apple which was excruciating because that beautiful city and I were meant to be. But family is equally as important as big city love affairs, so we went out west and settled in my home town. I began working for an academic medical center in Transplant Surgery, which I absolutely loved.

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Transplant Surgery is exciting, the people are fun and smart, and the endings are happy. We got to fix organ failure as a team and it felt miraculous. Working for a surgery service in the hospital is incredibly busy however, and after seven years, with a young son at home, I decided to move to the outpatient area to slow things down a bit.

That’s when I started working in Oncology and I haven’t looked back. It’s been about five years now and I love the work because you really get to know and spend time with patients and their families, the field is intellectually stimulating, and my colleagues in Oncology are the nicest people you could know. You just don’t work in Oncology unless you’re kind and true.

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I see patients in the clinic most days and cover the infusion rooms on a rotating basis. I’m the Lead Nurse Practitioner and manage a staff of eight other NPs. I see all types of malignancies and participate in clinical trial research but work most closely with the gastrointestinal oncology team; pancreatic cancer is what I see most. Outcomes in pancreatic cancer are not great, not yet anyway, and I must admit staying positive can be a challenge. It can be emotionally draining but I keep showing up because you’ve got to see this work as an opportunity to help, even a little.

The Future

I started Brio because I wanted to make something from the grief I hold for the patients I’ve lost. Like I said, pancreatic cancer can take its toll, which is why I’m focusing my extracurricular efforts on survivorship wellness. It just makes sense to turn the sad energy into something to help survivors thrive.

I saw a need for cancer survivor wellness services - survivors were coming to me at work asking for specific wellness advice about eating, exercising, anxiousness, insomnia, pain - and I didn’t have anything to give them, so I’m creating a specific, easy, step-by-step program myself. It’s a lot of extra work, and at this point I’m not getting paid for it, but I hope to offer low cost, educational supportive services to cancer survivors soon because I think you’ll agree, the need and desire is there.

Conclusion

The best part of my job is having the privelege of hearing my patients’ stories. Learning about the details of their lives, what they do every day in their work, adventures they had in their youth, about their families, their deepest fears and joys, is what makes my job as an Oncology Nurse Practitioner great. Your stories enrich my work and life.

My own story is not particularly interesting, so pardon the indulgence. You definitely, thankfully got the abridged version. I hope hearing a few details about me puts our connection into context for you. After all, that’s what I’m trying to do here - connect with cancer survivors who need the information I have to give.

You take care now, Survivor.

XOXO,

Susan