Jul 20, 2022
By Leah Lawrence
Cynthia Villarreal-Garza, MD, DSc, of Hospital Zambrano Hellion, Tecnológico de Monterrey, Mexico, is the recipient of the 2022 Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation, International Women Who Conquer Cancer (WWCC) Mentorship Award.
The WWCC Mentorship Awards recognize extraordinary women leaders in oncology and role models who have excelled as mentors and demonstrated outstanding commitment to the professional development of female colleagues as clinicians, educators, and researchers in oncology.
“I am delighted to receive this important award that acknowledges not only being a mentor, but, more specifically, the role of being a woman who guides others,” said Dr. Villarreal-Garza. “Receiving this recognition makes me feel greatly honored.”
Leading by Example
Women leaders in oncology guide and inspire both young and veteran physicians, serving as examples and paving the way to success in the medical field, Dr. Villarreal-Garza said.
In her own life, the positive influence of women mentors began when Dr. Villarreal-Garza was in medical school. Dr. Claudia Hernández, a gynecologist and medical school instructor, was a model for Dr. Villarreal-Garza.
“She could fulfill and have a balance between her professional and personal tasks,” Dr. Villarreal-Garza explained. “I really liked that she decided to focus on some aspects of medicine, such as medical students’ education and specialized care of female adolescent patients. I admired how this approach freed up time for her to spend with her family and how she was always very clear about her schedule and her priorities.”
As an internal medicine resident, Dr. Villarreal-Garza first became interested in oncology by shadowing an oncology fellow. As she further pursued her specialty, Dr. Villarreal-Garza continued to look to strong women mentors.
For example, in 2010, Dr. Villarreal-Garza traveled to Canada to serve as a clinical and research fellow in breast cancer at Sunnybrook Hospital, Odette Cancer Centre, Toronto. There, she worked with Dr. Rebecca Dent, a Canadian breast medical oncologist currently based in Singapore.
“She is a great example to me,” Dr. Villarreal-Garza said. “Rebecca is an intelligent, kind, and versatile woman, a great leader, and a dear friend.”
Others who have been deeply helpful in Dr. Villarreal-Garza’s career include Dr. Ann Partridge and Dr. Ellen Warner, who guided and assisted her in establishing a program for young women with breast cancer in Mexico.
Paying It Forward
As her career as a breast medical oncologist and clinical researcher progressed, Dr. Villarreal-Garza began to prioritize mentoring others.
“As a woman, young female physicians have identified with my goals and challenges,” she said. “With the purpose of aiding them to achieve their objectives, I continuously adapt my mentoring style depending on the needs of each of my mentees.”
Nowadays, Dr. Villarreal-Garza said, she mostly collaborates with women on her projects.
“I find that women working together in diverse aspects related to oncology tends to foster a caring, thoughtful, empathetic, and organized environment that enhances patient-centered care and women’s personal and professional development,” Dr. Villarreal-Garza said.
In the future, Dr. Villarreal-Garza hopes to continue working to address gender disparities that hinder career advancement in order to help women achieve their professional objectives as well as their family and personal goals.
“My team and I are currently working on the generation of objective data about Mexican physicians who are also mothers, regarding their work and the barriers they have faced throughout their training and professional life, as well as possible facilitators to promote equity,” Dr. Villarreal-Garza said.
A Shared Experience
Dr. Villarreal-Garza thanked her daughter Natalia, her family, and her boyfriend Sergio for their daily inspiration and support. In addition, she thanked Dr. Eucario León, one of her oncology teachers during residency; Dr. Oscar Arrieta, an important role model who helped her enter the world of oncology; and all of her women mentors.
Finally, Dr. Villarreal-Garza thanked her mentees, particularly Dr. Regina Barragán, who took the initiative to nominate her for the International WWCC Mentorship Award.
“My mentees give me the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience with them, but I also learn greatly from each one of them,” Dr. Villarreal-Garza said. “This has become a shared experience that is priceless for me.”
“I am very proud of all my mentees, of their goals and what they have achieved, and I am very pleased that many of them are now my collaborators,” she added. “It delights me to continue being part of their professional and even personal lives in many cases. My commitment is to support them as much as they need it in all aspects.”
Originally published in ASCO Daily News.
The Women Who Conquer Cancer series profiles some of the remarkable nominees for and recipients of Conquer Cancer’s Women Who Conquer Cancer Mentorship Awards, which recognize role models and mentors to men and women training to be cancer clinicians, educators, or researchers.