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Meghan Cifrino: Cancer and connecting

As a child, Meghan Cifrino often pretended to be a nurse. Today, she is employed at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute where she works as a neuro-oncology nurse, handling some of the most difficult cases at the hospital. 

“We used to play with stethoscopes all the time as kids,” Cifrino says, recalling a vow she made with her sisters, Catherine and Sarah, to someday join the nursing profession. “I felt really strongly that this is what I wanted to do.”

So did Cifrino’s two younger sisters, now both pediatric cardiology nurses at Boston Children’s Hospital. Meghan Cifrino also started her career at Boston Children’s, when she volunteered as a nursing assistant during her freshman year in high school. Although it would be years before she would earn her nursing degree, Cifrino’s colleagues at Children’s recognized her talent and encouraged her to make it a career.  

Working as a volunteer nursing assistant helped Cifrino, the granddaughter of a doctor, learn firsthand about what it takes to be a good nurse. Along the way, she also discovered something essential: how to connect with her patients. “I wanted to end up somewhere that I could foster long-term relationships with people,” she says of her nursing goal. “It’s something I value as a nurse because I really enjoy developing those relationships.”

Meghan Cifrino, a nurse, speaks to a patient.
Meghan Cifrino, nurse at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Photo by Aisha McAdams.

Today, the 31-year-old mother of two has found the job she’s dreamed about since childhood. At Dana-Farber, she not only serves as a neuro-oncology nurse, she also helps guide brain cancer patients and their families through the complex and often confusing world of cancer treatment. 

Dealing with patients suffering from brain cancer isn’t easy, she admits. Patients are scared and their family members are worried. They don’t know what to expect. That’s where Cifrino steps in.  

Whether it’s a question about medications, new therapies, or a request to speak with an oncologist, the confident, knowledgeable, and reassuring Cifrino is there to help. “At Dana-Farber, people can feel secure in their care,” she says. “The support we offer is just incredible.”

One of those patients, Christopher Barnett, agrees. Cifrino has been “a constant support” for him and his wife, helping to get the couple through years of tough treatments, he says.

She isn’t just an amazing professional, who is “wonderfully warm and friendly, and almost like family,” Barnett writes in a letter to The Boston Globe. She’s also upbeat, positive, and on top of medical technology, treatment advances, and what patients can expect as they navigate therapy options. Whether it’s a question or concern, he knows he can reach Cifrino anytime.

“When I talk to Meghan, I feel like I’m talking to my oncologist,” he says. “She’s very clear-eyed about what this is and what we can and can’t do.”

Barnett also credits his Dana-Farber medical team with stabilizing his condition during his four years of treatment. The result of that team effort, he says, has kept him alive long enough to meet his two grandchildren.

It’s that kind of relationship — and treatment outcome — that makes Cifrino know she made the right career choice.

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