Manager plans surprise party for employee with cancer
After a speech therapist on her team was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, Melissa Brewster supported Deb Brohard and her family throughout the cancer battle. Brewster even planned a surprise party to honor Brohard’s 28 years of servce.
Brohard specialized in working with children born with cleft palates, improving thousands of lives throughout her career. She worked at UCHealth Children’s Therapy Services in Fort Collins and died in November 2020 after a nearly two-year cancer battle.
“Deb was brilliant,” said Brewster, who was her manager. “She was extremely compassionate, and she had high expectations for patients and parents.”
“Deb loved working there, and it felt like family,” said Mike Brohard, who was Deb’s husband. “I felt Melissa did things for Deb that she didn’t have to do, but she did because she cares. It meant the world to me and my daughters.”
As Deb’s 28th anniversary with UCHealth approached in August 2020, it became clear she wouldn’t be returning to work. Brewster worked out a plan with Mike for an outdoor, socially-distanced surprise celebration in the family’s backyard. Colleagues who had worked with Deb for many years attended the party where Melissa served appetizers and desserts.
“Obviously, Deb cried. It just meant the world to her that they came over to retire her the right way,” Mike said. “For a little while, she didn’t feel sick. She felt like she was with friends and part of the team again. It just meant the world to her.”
Brewster made sure Deb received her UCHealth retirement gift, a framed picture of UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital. It was signed by all her colleagues, and today it hangs in the Brohard home.
“As hard as it was for Deb, I know Melissa was just a bright light for her as she was going through treatment,” Mike said. “Melissa wasn’t just a boss. She was a very, very dear friend.”
Deb died the day before Thanksgiving 2020. The children’s therapy team had already been preparing Thanksgiving dinner for the family, and Brewster delivered it herself.
“She was a bright part of our life in a very dark time,” Mike said, adding that she continued to support and comfort the grieving family.
Brewster has been with UCHealth for 12 years. A rehabilitative services manager, she has 18 years of experience as a speech therapist. Deb was her clinical fellowship supervisor after Brewster graduated from University of Northern Colorado University.
In October 2021, Brewster worked with colleagues to coordinate a Fight Like a Bronco guided painting session, an event in partnership with the Denver Broncos to remember a loved one lost to cancer. Mike joined them for the virtual event, where they painted Broncos canvas art pieces. The children’s therapy team’s paintings are displayed in the building’s basement to honor Deb.
“Everybody deserves to have a boss like Melissa,” Mike said. “She cares about you and your family as people, and not just you as an employee.”