Jamie Boyer believes one thing above all others: family first. As far as Jamie is concerned, that’s all you need to know. The entire Pediatric Oncology Clinic team at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital keeps children and families at the forefront, whether they’re helping them through a tough day or making sure that patients’ stuffed animals are just as cared for as they are. Day in and day out, no matter what, families come first.

Photo of clinic manager standing next to a sign that reads "INSPIRE."

Families like the Maurer’s know it firsthand. As they gathered around the bell in the clinic that patients use to celebrate their final cancer treatments a couple weeks ago, their daughter Willow joyfully rang the bell. “Bell ringings aren’t only a celebration of the end of cancer treatment,” said Jamie, “but also a celebration of strength and a milestone during a lifelong journey.”

On a normal day, the clinic runs at a very high pace. It requires a lot of juggling to keep the operation flowing.

Jamie’s job is to both take care of and accommodate all the patients’ needs, for those that have scheduled appointments and those who arrive feeling acutely ill.

Four Diamonds mom Megan recalls some busy days when Willow had appointments in the clinic.

“In the early stages of Willow’s treatment, we were at clinic a lot,” said Megan. “We’ve seen the waiting room when it was less busy and full to the point that you couldn’t find a seat.”

Megan expressed how even when the clinic was full, Willow’s appointments always ran smoothly, and you would never know that the staff was performing a juggling act to keep things moving. On those days, Jamie makes sure her nursing staff has the resources it needs. “Every day is different dependent on what challenges emerge during the day,” says Jamie. “Being that I am an RN (registered nurse), there are times that I put on scrubs and work in staffing.”

Once the staff is prepared, Jamie settles into her desk, diligently overseeing the clinic’s budget, organization matters and overall leadership.

Jamie’s title may be “manager,” but as she often says, “My staff runs the clinic.”

Registered nurse and practice site manager tries to make 5-year-old patient laugh before blood work.

“Families and patients have so much to worry about, the last thing they need to worry about is encountering a broken spirit while they are here,” says Jamie. When you walk into the pediatric oncology clinic, you wouldn’t think everyone was focused on something as sobering as childhood cancer. The sense of positivity, teamwork and hope can be felt in every corner. The staff knows when each patient needs a boost. Within the Pediatric Oncology Clinic, not only does everyone know your name, but they’re well-versed in your treatment schedule.  This familiarity ensures that no crucial details are overlooked. Family first.

Jamie stands by the mantra that knowing the children and their families allows the staff to mitigate those situations where safety counts and not miss anything.

Megan agrees. “The staff always know Willow by name! Whether we're walking in to check-in, or someone passes her in the hall, she's always greeted with a warm smile and a 'Hi Willow.' They even remember her favorite stuffed animal, sidekick, Piggy. As parents we're grateful for the sense of community that the staff brings to clinic.”

With family and friends looking on, a 6-year-old Willow, rings the ceremonial bell after her last cancer treatment at Penn State Health Children's Hospital

One of the toughest times that Jamie can remember as the clinic manager was trying to keep up with the changing atmosphere as the COVID-19 pandemic came into the community. “We were receiving daily directives from the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the hospital, but every child that needed chemotherapy still needed to get it,” says Jamie. Treatments needed to continue because cancer doesn’t stop for a pandemic.

When Willow was first diagnosed with cancer, COVID-19 protocols were already in place, and her family didn’t know any different. The family always needed to be masked and it was difficult for her  to see the faces of the staff. Willow contracted COVID-19 two weeks after her cancer diagnosis which made Megan nervous. She thought Willow would have to stop her treatment during isolation.

It turned out that wasn’t the case. “The staff had everything arranged from a separate entrance into the clinic to getting Willow her favorite snacks from the cafeteria while she was getting treatment,” said Megan. Family first.

“Celebration and obstacles are both celebratory in the clinic,” says Jamie. “It’s why we do what we do.”

The positive points during a child’s treatment and the obstacles that are overcome are celebrations. Challenges often lie ahead, such as learning to walk with a prosthetic or stem cell transplants. “We need to always keep a positive mindset for these children and their families, no matter what kind of days we are having,” Jamie says. “They count on us for that.”

Losses hit hard, she says. But even they serve as reminders of why she and her staff do what they do.

Continue the research. Continue the care,” Jamie says. “We continue their legacies, and the ways we touched each other’s lives. It helps us better help the next patient.”

Cancer can reoccur, even after the bell is rung. “It’s our job to be ready if it does,” Jamie says.

In the meantime, the Pediatric Oncology Clinic will keep families first. It’s a motto.

The clinic is not just where these children are receiving out-patient cancer care, it’s where they feel safe and welcome. It’s where stickers are at every counter, and music and art therapists come to play. It’s where a joke of the day can be found, and meal and gas vouchers are provided. It’s where child life and therapy dogs come to make a tough day better. It’s where our Four Diamonds families know they come first, and they are taken care of. It’s “where everybody knows your name.”

To learn more about the superior care that Four Diamonds provides our families, click here.

To read more about Willow's journey, click here.