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Staff Snapshot: Marissa Castoro, cancer survivor

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Marissa and sons

Senior Licensed Vocational Nurse Marissa Castoro found her professional calling during a pivotal life experience — while giving birth to her first son, Gianni.

“I had my first son fairly young, at the age of 20. I had been unsure of what field I wanted to go into, but after a labor and delivery nurse helped me through my labor, I told myself ‘That’s what I want to do — I want to help people like my nurse helped me,’” Marissa says.

Marissa attended the City College of San Francisco LVN program and completed her last clinical rotation at the UCSF satellite Daly City Gellert OB-GYN clinic. “I left my resume with them just in case something opened up. Lo and behold I got a call from a UCSF OB-GYN manager for an interview,” she recalls. “I feel like I’ve come full circle since I had my first son and ended up exactly where I wanted to be.”

One of the aspects of her work that Marissa finds most rewarding is building personal connections and empathizing with her patients. As a breast cancer survivor, she’s spent a lot of time as a patient herself, and she draws upon these experiences to connect with others.

As a cancer survivor who works in a high-risk OB-GYN office, I sometimes meet patients that have had very similar treatments to what I went through 14 years ago. Being able to empathize with them while actively listening to their concerns and fears helps them understand that they are not alone in this journey. It creates a safe space for them to open up and form a trusting bond with me and other providers throughout their care with us,” she says. 

The sense of calm and connection that Marissa brings to her work was an asset during the chaos created in health care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We were given protocols that rapidly changed as research and our knowledge of COVID-19 evolved. We had to adjust and learn quickly to keep up with best practices so we could keep our patients and ourselves safe. What I’ve learned most is how to be flexible through this whole experience.”

Marissa, Luca, Guillaume
Marissa Castoro with her fiancé, Guillaume, and younger son, Luca

Meet Marissa

Name: Marissa Castoro

Title: Senior Licensed Vocational Nurse

Department/Unit: Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences

Location/Campus: UCSF Mission Bay

When did you start working for UC? April 2012

In 10 words or less, what do you do for UC? Direct patient care in the OB-GYN clinic

Why do you love working for UC? I love working for UC, but more importantly, I love working for the women’s health OB-GYN department. I feel like I can add value to my patient care population by being able to empathize with them regarding their care. Women don’t normally discuss the women’s health problems that we can experience on a day-to-day or yearly basis. It’s nice to be able to empathize with patients when I’ve experienced something that they are seeking treatment or assistance for, to provide them with the comfort of knowing they are not alone.

What’s something people don’t know about you? Most people don’t know that I had breast cancer at the age of 23. I went through many treatments including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. It was a very difficult time in my life, but thankfully it has been in remission since. I don’t walk around with a sign that says I’m a cancer survivor, but when the opportunity arises and I can share my story with someone I usually do. I wasn’t treated at UCSF, but I do have follow-up scans here and I’m lucky to be part of a university that stays up to date with current research.

Who’s your dream dinner guest (living or dead) and why? I’ve always wished that I could have met my paternal grandmother. She passed way before I was born, but from the stories I’ve heard, I know that she was an amazing mother and would have been an amazing grandmother to have in my life. Interestingly enough, my first son was born on the same date she had passed away many years before. The cycle of life brought happiness back into my father’s and his siblings’ lives through this rare life/death event.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? I’ve never received career advice that was life-changing, but I have taken many opportunities to mirror the actions of peers that I look up to in order to become the best version of my professional self. At the hospital, I always try to be friendly with everyone I come into contact with — my peers, hospitality staff, managers from other departments and greeters in the front lobbies. It’s nice to see welcoming faces behind our masks and to remember that we are all working together to support this multifaceted health system.



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