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Ivy Blog

It’s Personal: Terra Ybarra

“The work that we’re doing here at the Ivy Brain Tumor Center is personal to me because my brother-in-law was taken by a glioblastoma at a young age, and I don’t want to see that happen to anyone else.”  


– Terra Ybarra, research nurse at the Ivy Brain Tumor Center  

Throughout the year, our It’s Personal campaign has highlighted Ivy Center team members who have been personally impacted by brain cancer and how the effects of this disease have changed the trajectory of their careers. Our hope is that these stories continue to build awareness around brain cancer and the dire need for new treatment options for this patient population. Our It’s Personal campaign continues with Terra Ybarra, a research nurse at the Ivy Brain Tumor Center.  

Brain Tumor Diagnosis Hits Close to Home for Neuroscience Nurse 

Leon with his twin daughter and wife
Leon and his wife, Jessica, with their twins

Nearly four years ago, Terra found herself in a similar fate to the families of patients she was caring for when her brother-in-law, Leon, was diagnosed with glioblastoma. At the young age of 33, Leon and his wife Jessica had just welcomed twins two months earlier and were starting a new chapter in their lives. 

“When I heard the news about Leon, I was already working in the neuroscience field as a nurse. I had the weight of knowing what that diagnosis meant, when it wasn’t yet clear to my family and my sister,” Terra explains. “It was difficult having that knowledge and getting the phone call from my sister that her husband had one of the most aggressive types of cancer in the world. I knew there was going to be a hard fight ahead.” 

Leon showing off his warrior scar

Leon’s initial surgery was successful and all visible tumor tissue was removed, but glioblastoma is very difficult to remove entirely due to its thread-like tendrils containing microscopic cells, and they knew the possibility of a recurrence was imminent. In spite of this, Leon returned to enjoying life as a new parent and spending valuable time with his family. Two and a half years later, their fears were realized when a routine MRI showed that his tumor had progressed and he was immediately scheduled for a second surgery.  

“My sister was very active and determined to try to find the best options for him. She was able to find a clinical trial near their home in California that he participated in for a time, but unfortunately his glioblastoma ended up taking his life.” 

A Passion Ignited by Personal Experience 

Since witnessing her brother-in-law’s battle with glioblastoma, Terra’s steadfast passion for treating patients has become even more apparent. “Now with every patient that I treat, I think about the family members behind them and how each have their own story. It’s also really important with brain tumor patients to maintain their dignity and remember that they are a unique individual. They’re not just a patient and they’re not just an assigned number to a trial.” Terra explains. As a research nurse at the Ivy Center, Terra feels as though she has found a solid purpose for what she’s doing in her life and enjoys working with a group of people who are so passionate about finding answers that are going to help the brain tumor community.  

Due to the complexities of disease and the fact that it’s not as common as some other cancer types, glioblastoma patients are left with little to no treatment options once their tumor recurs. For patients who enter a Phase 0 clinical trial at the Ivy Center, we are rapidly identifying new experimental drug combinations that will be effective for their individual tumor. 

Terra describes how the Ivy Center’s program is uniquely designed to treat patients with aggressive brain tumors. “There is no time wasted. That’s why Ivy Phase 0 clinical trials are such a great option for these patients because the disease can spread so quickly. They don’t have the luxury of entering a conventional clinical trial that could take months or even years. Seeing the success of our clinical trials really fuels our team and reminds us why we’re doing what we do. We see patients continue on with better quality and longer lives after such a devastating diagnosis.”  

“The most rewarding thing about my job is being able to contribute to something that’s really going to change the face of healthcare one day and change the lives of so many people. I think it’s important that we’re generating awareness for brain tumor patients because treatments are lacking for this population and it’s important for these patients to know that they have options.” 

Have you been personally impacted by brain cancer? We welcome you to share your story on social media using the hashtag #itspersonal and tag the Ivy Brain Tumor Center. We will share as many as we can to support this movement as we work to build awareness and help those suffering from glioblastoma and other aggressive brain tumors.  

Click here to learn more about why the fight against brain cancer is personal to the team at the Ivy Center.

For more information about our Phase 0 clinical trials, please contact an Ivy Navigator at 602-406-8605.

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