If anyone has ever been predisposed to seek out health care as a calling, it’s Javin Brita, PA-C, MPAS. Growing up in a small town in rural Massachusetts he heard stories of how his great grandmother supported the local community by working as a midwife. Deeply inspired by his family’s history of service, Javin resolved from a young age to find a profession that would allow him to provide care for people in need of expert help.
While his great grandmother helped bring life into the world, Javin wanted to help people whose lives were in danger. At first, that meant being part of a primary care team treating a multitude of conditions, but soon enough cancer care became his mission.
As a physician’s assistant, he plays a central role in coordinating his patients’ care. He provides support, advice and guidance through every step of the cancer journey—from diagnosis through treatment, recovery and beyond. Dynamic and empathetic, Javin’s passion for his patients is evident and striking.
While he may not be a midwife, in his own way he is in fact delivering his patients to life after cancer.
Q: What is it about being a physician’s assistant that’s so attractive and fulfilling?
A: I fell in love with oncology because patients and their families are more than just cases—they are people, they are individuals. Some cancers may be similar, but each person and their experience is unique in their own way.
This started when I was on my last rotation during my physician assistant training at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston when a head and neck cancer survivor shared with me that he was struggling—not with physical symptoms—but rather with how to return to normal life, now one year out from completing his treatment. That moment stuck with me, and it was an easy and natural decision when I first stumbled upon the Survivorship Advanced Practice Provider position at Yale before I started in 2018.
I find that empowering our cancer survivors to live their best lives to be so rewarding. This may include improving their quality of life, reducing risk of their cancer recurrence and maximizing healthy lifestyle behaviors. It’s about taking advantage of this moment to show them that they can work with us to develop a sustainable plan for healthy lifestyle behaviors to achieve their goals—and all of this after a cancer diagnosis and treatment. I am most thankful to be working with a highly motivated patient population who want to live their best lives and who provide inspiration to anyone looking to do the same. It is rewarding to see cancer survivors who have overcome their diagnosis and treatment and are making the choice to improve their lives even further.
Q: It seems like your training influenced a desire to help others. Tell us more.
A: I received my undergraduate degree from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, where I majored in mathematics, did chemistry research and had a pre-med concentration. I was a member of Peace Around the World, working closely with the Not For Sale campaign to advocate against human trafficking. After college, I worked as a medical assistant for a few years and gained clinical experience. This was invaluable because it provided insight into the various roles of the entire health-care team and medical office and how they work synergistically to provide the best possible patient care experience. This was my first experience that highlighted a team-based approach in medicine and offered a perspective that I still carry with me as part of the multidisciplinary survivorship team at Yale. I then went on to attend Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences for the physician assistant program and obtained my Master’s degree in Physician Assistant Studies. I was vice president of the Student Association of the American Academy of Physician Assistants at my program, helping to organize events, contribute to causes and help represent my class for the program. Since graduating, I continue as a member of the American Academy of Physician Assistants.
Q: Can you tell us about your work at the Yale Cancer Center and how it serves the larger community?
A: I am a physician’s assistant working in the Yale Cancer Survivorship Program. One of the biggest events we support is the Closer to Free bike ride, where cancer survivors and loved ones fundraise for patient services and research where I am at the Smilow Cancer Hospital and Yale Cancer Center. Most importantly, it’s an opportunity to be part of this wonderful and large community of cancer survivors, loved ones and providers who ride together and celebrate life at this yearly event.
Each year for National Cancer Survivors Day, Yale hosts an event for cancer survivors and their families, often with a special guest. During the pandemic, we did this with the help of technology since we could not meet in person. As a Survivorship Network we turned this event into a virtual one right into our supporters’ homes! We now have hosted two virtual events to celebrate cancer survivors, showcasing resources and videos with tips and tricks for our community of survivors. Plus, it’s an opportunity for us to thank all of them for allowing us to be part of their life, their care and support.
We also like to spread the word to others about cancer survivorship by identifying “Survivorship Champions” who are passionate about caring for this population. With that in mind, we host the National Cancer Institute’s Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO) Program series on cancer survivorship for any health-care professionals providing care for cancer survivors to come together virtually to discuss cases and survivorship-related topics, as well as learn from each other.
Q: How did you discover AICR and our resources/research?
A: When I started working with the Yale Survivorship team, our dietitian was already well-acquainted with the resources that AICR has to offer. For me, there wasn’t a moment as the PA in the Survivorship program where we didn’t offer resources from AICR in the folder that we give to patients. That was when I began to learn how valuable AICR’s materials are, and how digestible (pun intended!) they are for our survivors to use on a daily basis as a guide, resource and as a reminder for sustainable healthy lifestyle behaviors.
Q: How do you and the Yale Cancer Center utilize AICR’s resources?
A: We provide our cancer patients with a folder at their initial visit with us. This folder has resources on psychosocial well-being, integrative medicine, exercise, nutrition and more—many of the resources are from AICR.
Q: Have you heard from your cancer patients and survivors about their favorite materials from AICR?
A: People love to come back and tell us they read through all the resources in the patient folder and found them helpful. We receive outstanding feedback on the resources from AICR. For example, AICR’s magnets that people can place on their refrigerator at home are some of the most popular nutrition resources we have.
The magnets are a reminder that encourages patients to reference other AICR materials that make it easy for survivors to develop healthy eating habits and motivate people to sustain these healthy lifestyle behaviors.
Q: Have you seen AICR’s resources impact the community outside Yale Cancer Center?
A: Yes! We have sent our patient folder to other institutions’ survivorship teams that have used what we are doing as a guideline for developing or improving their own programs. We have received great feedback on the comprehensive resources we provide, including those from AICR.
Q: Have you seen public awareness around nutrition, lifestyle and cancer risk evolve in your community?
A: Yes, we see this every day. People are generally more aware of what they eat and want to be actively involved in their care. We provide guidance for people to make healthful choices in this way. With regard to cancer risk, we know many cancers are impacted by exercise and weight management, so it is a prevalent topic. This shift in mentality that includes ways that patients can engage in their care through lifestyle changes, rather than just taking medicine, has put the power back in their hands and allows people to actually impact outcomes, in conjunction with the care and advice they receive from their oncology team.
Q: How does the Yale Cancer Center staff benefit from using AICR’s resources?
A: We see this through the Survivorship Program, which allows us to provide valuable resources for our cancer survivors, like AICR’s materials that promote healthy lifestyle behaviors in a sustainable way.
The resources from AICR also helps us fulfill our mission by providing evidence-based information to patients, that when utilized, may contribute to reducing the risk of cancer recurrence through healthy lifestyle behaviors. Historically, there has not been great support for cancer survivors, but we are fortunate enough to live in a time where that is changing and the resources and support are growing. The resources from AICR contribute to that and can be shared with patients and providers.
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