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UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center

Christine Quirch: Drawing inspiration from her cancer patients

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June 7, 2011

Christine Quirch © UC Regents
Christine Quirch, clinical trials nurse manager for the UC Davis Cancer Center.

After graduating from high school in Deerfield, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, in 1970, Christine Quirch spent a year working for a dentist. It is not a pleasant memory.

“I thought it was gross,” she said.

Switching gears, she enrolled in a three-year nursing school program affiliated with Northwestern University, becoming a registered nurse in 1974. She then worked six years at a community hospital in the Chicago area, initially as a staff nurse on the surgical floor and later as head nurse in the pediatrics unit. In 1980, when Quirch had an opportunity to become a staff nurse at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill., in its oncology unit, she jumped at it.

“I missed academia,” Quirch said. “I like being on the cutting-edge of technology and being part of medicine as it has changed for the better.”

Quirch later became a chemotherapy nurse in the unit, and when Loyola opened its Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center in 1994, Quirch went there and worked in its clinics and its cancer information community outreach program.

"It has been my privilege and honor to work with the patients I have worked with. They have been the most phenomenally courageous group of people I have ever met in my life."

— Christine Quirch

Quirch, now the clinical trials nurse manager for the UC Davis Cancer Center, has no doubt that the treatment of cancer has improved. She said more prevalent screening procedures have led to earlier detection, while a surge in the number of available cancer therapies over the past 10 to 15 years has given physicians and patients a wider range of options.

“The result is that cancer has become more of a chronic illness, like heart disease, or diabetes or kidney disease,” Quirch said.

Quirch, who stayed at Loyola for 23 years before coming to UC Davis in 2004, has had a number of memorable patients over the years — like her very first one as a nursing student, a man with a disfiguring facial cancer.

“He was so kind and appreciative of anything you did for him,” Quirch said. Later on, there was the young woman with leukemia and a great sense of humor. She had a hairless Barbie doll posted at the door of her hospital room with a note that read: “This is Chemo Barbie.”

“It has been my privilege and honor to work with the patients I have worked with,” Quirch said. “They have been the most phenomenally courageous group of people I have ever met in my life.”

Quirch has her own admirers. Her supervisor, Jeanine Stiles, said Quirch is “an exceptional oncology nurse who has great compassion for the patients under her care.” Jane Hobbs, a clinical research nurse who works under Quirch, cited her dedication.

“She puts in long hours guaranteeing that the cancer clinical trials are accurate and that patients are cared for appropriately,” Hobbs said.

Quirch moved into her present management role a year-and-a-half ago and has 17 people working directly under her — both nurses and clinical research coordinators. Her supervisory duties include ensuring the safety of the patients participating in the research studies — particularly in terms of managing the side effects of chemotherapy. She is also responsible for seeing that data related to the clinical trials is documented properly and for tracking any changes in federal policies and procedures related to the trials.

When Quirch isn’t working, she’s often traveling. A favorite getaway is the Caribbean, which she’s visited no less than 10 times. She’s been to Hawaii four times, Europe twice and she’s traveled extensively throughout the U.S. — a trip to Maine is in the works this fall. She took up downhill skiing when she was 30 and for a time shushed slopes in places like Banff and Steamboat Springs. But her skiing days were cut short by a knee injury. These days she has a bit of an aversion to the white stuff —not so surprising given all the Chicago winters she’s endured.

“You can’t get me near a snowdrift,” Quirch said.

Then, there’s the jewelry. Quirch bedecks herself. Not overly so, but enough to draw notice. Stiles, her boss, mentioned it. So did Hobbs. When asked if there was anything unusual about Quirch, Hobbs at first said she had a beautiful smile.

Then, after a pause, she said, “Christine likes bling.”

Color-coordinated bling, mind you. One day, for example, was “pearl day” — white pearls on each ear, a solitary white pearl on her left middle finger and a black and white pearl on her right ring finger.

Over the years, Quirch has amassed quite a jewelry collection — which is another way of saying she spends a fair amount of time in jewelry stores.

“Sometimes a girl needs a little retail therapy if she can’t travel out of town,” Quirch said.