International Development and Education Award Helps Two Sisters Pursue Shared Dream of Improving Cancer Care in Mexico

Jul 17, 2018

In the 16 years that ASCO and ASCO’s Conquer Cancer Foundation have been giving out the International Development and Education Award (IDEA)—a professional development award that enables exceptional early-career physicians from low- and middle-income countries to attend the ASCO Annual Meeting and visit a mentor’s institution in North America—two recipients have sometimes come from the same country. In one special case, they came from the same family.

In 2013, Maria Teresa Bourlon, MD, MS, received an IDEA to further her education in clinical care and research in genitourinary cancers. Two years later, her sister Christianne Bourlon, MD, MS, followed in her footsteps and received an IDEA to develop her understanding of hematologic malignancies.

Today, both sisters are back in Mexico City at the Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Médicas y Nutrición Salvador Zubirán, excelling in their fields, and putting their experience and skills to work to improve the lives of patients with cancer in Mexico. They are also active ASCO members, regularly returning to the ASCO Annual Meeting to support new IDEA recipients; Dr. Maria Bourlon currently serves on ASCO’s Academic Global Leadership Task Force.

Dr. Maria Teresa Bourlon: “One of the Best Years of My Life”

I had the good fortune to receive the IDEA in 2013; at that time I was a medical oncology fellow. The day I was notified by ASCO, I felt very happy because I knew it would change my academic career. The IDEA provided me the opportunity to have mentors in urologic oncology, the professional field in which I wanted to build a career. I had the chance to see the organization of a comprehensive cancer center, including infusion areas, research labs, outpatient clinics, inpatient halls, and tumor boards. This experience helped me envision the way I wanted to build a urologic oncology clinic in the future.

When I won the award, I realized what a wonderful opportunity this grant is. Ever since, I have encouraged all my co-fellows and then my trainees to apply for the IDEA. I also encouraged my sister, who is a hematologist, to apply. Our family and friends all were very happy when we were notified that Christianne had also been awarded an IDEA in 2015!

My connection with my mentor L. Michael Glodé, MD, FACP, FASCO, and co-mentors Elaine Tat Lam, MD, Thomas W. Flaig, MD, and Elizabeth Kessler, MD, at the University of Colorado was wonderful. Dr. Glodé encouraged me to apply for a fellowship. One year later, I was accepted to do a yearlong fellowship at the Urologic Oncology Program at the University of Colorado. I need to say, it was one of the best years of my life. I had a chance to train in clinic and research. The experience helped me to be ready to take my faculty appointment in Mexico City.

During the last 3 years I have been able to start a urologic oncology clinic at my institution, of which I am currently the head. Multidisciplinary efforts have led us to create a successful genitourinary cancers tumor board. We have been able to open clinical trials in the genitourinary field, and have received funding and research grants from the Aramont Foundation and Canales de Ayuda Foundation. This funding has let us treat patients with genitourinary malignancies and few resources, and has financed some of our research projects.

In addition, in conjunction with my mentors Dr. Glodé and Dr. Flaig, we obtained funds to build a long-lasting mentorship relationship between my institution and the University of Colorado. I have continuously worked with my research mentor, Dr. Flaig, during the last 3 years. We have managed to meet during professional conferences and we communicate through email and Skype for research purposes. Dr. Flaig visited our University Hospital in Mexico City in 2016. We organized educational sessions with fellows, clinical case discussions, and debates on current controversies in the management of genitourinary malignancies. Dr. Flaig gave me and my research team feedback on our projects.

I had the opportunity to invite my mentor Dr. Glodé as a visiting professor to my institution in Mexico City in September 2017. During his stay he gave a talk to the Medicine Department. Additionally, we discussed, together with my fellows, several challenging prostate cancer cases.

I started developing my own research line since I became a professor. One of the areas I have worked on is the potential induction of chemotherapy-induced premature aging in patients with testicular cancer. I was fortunate to have my abstract selected for oral presentation at the 2018 Genitourinary Cancers Symposium. I was terribly nervous about the presentation. Thankfully, Dr. Glodé and Dr. Flaig both reviewed my slides and supported me through the process to make it successful.

More recently, one of my mentees, Jennifer Domínguez-Pineda, MD, applied for the IDEA. Jennifer is currently the chief resident of our Medical Oncology Program. As she became interested in genitourinary cancers, we worked together on the IDEA application as mentor and mentee. It was so great to learn, last January, that she was selected for a 2018 IDEA. In addition, we were lucky enough that her mentor will be Dr. Flaig. Together we planned Jennifer’s visit to the University of Colorado Cancer Center. We were very happy to be at the Conquer Cancer Grants and Awards Ceremony in June 2018 as a group of mentors and mentees that are connected thanks to the IDEA program.

Dr. Christianne Bourlon: A Source of “Inspiration and Connection”

Cancer in low- and middle-income countries remains a major public health problem. This is particularly true in Mexico, where shortages of available resources and also of physicians with experience in malignant hematology and bone marrow transplant explain the lower rates of success when treating patients with cancer.

During my hematology residency I became interested particularly in malignant hematology and bone marrow transplant. I started seeking a program that could support my career development by connecting me with expert physicians working at recognized cancer centers who could share their experience with me and serve as scientific and academic mentors.

Most of the IDEA recipients learned about the award opportunity from communications sent by ASCO, information given out at the ASCO Annual Meeting, or from another colleague that had previously received the award. In my particular case, I can say I learned about IDEA at home. In 2013, my sister Maria received the IDEA. It was amazing to witness the great opportunity and experience that this was for her, as well as the support she received not only from ASCO but also from her assigned mentor. It was without hesitation that I decided to apply in 2015.

When I got the confirmation that I had been selected as an awardee I was assured that this experience would broaden my vision and expectations of my academic and scientific career. The experience began with the opportunity to attend one of the most important conferences for physicians dedicated to oncology, the ASCO Annual Meeting. During the meeting, the IDEA recipients participated in additional activities such as a visit to the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center at Northwestern University, IDEA Networking event, IDEA Alumni event, ASCO President´s Reception, and the Grants and Award Ceremony. I had the opportunity to meet, share, and establish networks with other physicians from different countries with different and similar circumstances.

My IDEA mentor was Saad Usmani, MD, FACP, an international leader in multiple myeloma and director of clinical research in hematologic malignancies at the Levine Cancer Institute in Charlotte, North Carolina. During the days we spent together, I was able to join him for in-hospital rounds, clinic, and research meetings.

Overall, IDEA gave me the inspiration and additional connections to apply for an international bone marrow transplant fellowship. I was accepted and completed my fellowship in 2016 at Princess Margaret Cancer Center in Toronto, Canada. After my fellowship, I came back to Mexico City, as I had an appointment as a junior faculty member and hematology and bone marrow transplant consultant at Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Médicas y Nutrición Salvador Zubirán and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, where I have the opportunity to work at one of the only two National Institutes of Health that has the infrastructure to develop a bone marrow transplant program in Mexico City. In addition, I continue collaborating in research and publications with my mentors, with whom I was connected, directly and indirectly, by ASCO.

Every year since 2013 for my sister and 2015 for me, the first years we attended the ASCO Annual Meeting thanks to the IDEA program, Maria and I have made additional efforts to attend. We go not only because of the academic and scientific content of the meeting, but because we are committed to helping others in low- and middle-income countries around the world with their professional development.

Learn more about the International Development and Education Award and about serving as an IDEA mentor.


Sylvia S. Estrada, DNP, RNP, MSN, CBCN

Aug, 01 2018 2:12 PM

Thank you for sharing the story of these two sisters who happened to be IDEA award money recipients. Let's hope that other Latin American physicians also take the opportunity to apply and use their award monies to improve access to oncologic services in their country.

Sylvia S. Estrada, DNP

L. Michael Glode, MD, FACP, FASCO

Aug, 02 2018 1:39 PM

Mentoring is one of the greatest privileges a physician can have. I think it is the ultimate "reward" of an academic career, although anyone can be a mentor in so many ways regardless of their career path. We can all "pay it forward" and I thank my many mentors, from Stu Kornfeld to Donald Seldin to David Livingston and many others for their inspiration in this regard.

Jennifer Dominguez, MD

Aug, 07 2018 12:58 AM

Find people who believed and trust in you during your professional training is not always easy. Dr. Maria Bourlon, my mentor, has been the person who has believed in me and pushed me up to believed that everything you want with effort and dedication can be achieved and that there are no limits for the dreams. Thanks Dr. Bourlon for all your support during all this time, Dr. Thomas Flaig and Dr. Elizabeth Kessler for all your support in the incredible experience at the University of Colorado as part of the IDEA award and thanks to ASCO for giving me the opportunity to be part of the IDEA award 2018. Now it´s time to continue helping others... 

Thomas W. Flaig, MD

Aug, 08 2018 11:06 AM

My engagement in this program, starting with Dr. Maria Bourlon and now continuing with Dr. Dominguez has been an incredibly positive experience for me.   It has been particularly rewarding to have an ongoing research collaboration with Dr. Bourlon and to subsequently host one of her outstanding mentees as well.  I would encourage others to learn more about the program and the opportunity it offers.    

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