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New book chronicles the journeys of women physicians and scientists to fighting cancer

HOUSTON - Just more than one year after it was created, the office of Women Faculty Programs at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center has introduced a collection of essays by leading women faculty aimed at inspiring generations of women scientists to come.

Legends and Legacies: Personal Journeys of Women Physicians and Scientists at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center presents the reflections of 26 current faculty women on their formative years and influences, their hurdles and opportunities as they pursued rewarding careers - and leadership roles - in science and academic medicine.

Anecdotes and insight shared throughout the book reveal personal struggles and bias based on gender, race or social/economic background, as the women sought to balance personal and professional lives, including the often competing demands of motherhood and the tenure track. The women profiled represent diverse ages, backgrounds and cultures and various professional roles, from clinicians and physician scientists to basic scientists and veterinarians. (Please see sidebar.)

In his foreword, John Mendelsohn, M.D., president of M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, noted "I was struck by how diverse - and often difficult - their pilgrimages have been, yet all share the common bond of growing up knowing they wanted to make a difference."

Editor Elizabeth Travis, Ph.D., a professor in the departments of Radiation Oncology and Pulmonary Medicine and the first associate vice president for Women Faculty Programs at M. D. Anderson, conceived the book project to recognize the accomplishments of M. D. Anderson's women faculty while spotlighting advocacy efforts intended to improve opportunities for women already in the field, as well as inspire others to choose and then stay in the field.

"Legends and Legacies is about seeing dreams through in the face of adversity," says Travis. "I hope it serves as a source of inspiration for young women dreaming of careers in science and medicine - and as a reminder to those women and men who are mentoring the next generation."

Mendelsohn also credited the women's "innate tenacity to succeed," commending Travis and the faculty women for their efforts to make M. D. Anderson a top destination for women physicians and scientists. "We are proud to be the home of so many remarkable women physicians and scientists who continue to be leaders in cancer patient care, research, education and prevention."

Through its Women Faculty Programs, M. D. Anderson promotes workplace initiatives for women physicians and scientists, such as creating a better work-life environment; nominating women faculty for prizes and awards; increasing the number of women leaders; providing career development and mentoring programs; reviewing faculty salaries annually; hosting women physicians and scientists to give scientific and women-in-science talks; promoting institution-wide gender-balanced participation; and reviewing status of women faculty annually.

Offering the book's final note, Raymond N. Dubois, M.D., Ph.D., provost and executive vice president of M. D. Anderson, said, "We must discard past gender stereotypes and do everything possible to attract, train and support the best and brightest minds to meet the challenges of conquering such relentless and stubborn problems as cancer. Future generations are counting on all of us."

Legends and Legacies features personal photographs, capturing the women as children and teens, with their families, at work and at play alongside the essays. Legends and Legacies (ISBN: 978-0-9753878-1-8) is available in hardcover for $24.99 and can be purchased securely online at In Houston, the book can be purchased at: Half Price Books (Rice Village, Montrose, and Pearland locations); Majors Books; River Oaks Book Store; Blue Willow Bookshop; Brazos Bookstore; and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (Dental Branch, Medical School, School of Nursing bookstores).

Proceeds from the sale of Legends and Legacies will benefit internships for women interested in careers in cancer medicine or science at M. D. Anderson.

Each woman featured in Legends and Legacies overcame personal struggles and their stories shine a light on obstacles that many may think are long gone. Take these:

  • Varsha V. Gandhi, Ph.D., Professor of Experimental Therapeutics, describes her journey to M. D. Anderson as "a rags-to-riches transition." After emigrating to the United States with her husband, Gandhi worked hard at whatever task was at hand - from studying molecular biology and cancer therapeutics to job hunting in a foreign country and even learning how to drive in parking lots - eventually earning a tenured position in experimental therapeutics at M. D. Anderson. She now serves as the director of education and faculty development for her department.

  • Eugenie S. Kleinerman, M.D., Professor and Head of Division of Pediatrics, was told she was "too cute" to be a doctor and urged to become a nurse. Her advisor at a top medical school said "women don't belong in medicine." She has since led the development of a technique to activate the body's immune system against osteosarcoma and was named the first woman division head at M. D. Anderson in 2001.

  • Inspired by Marie Curie and the untimely death of a childhood friend in Hiroshima from acute granulocytic leukemia, Ritsuko Komaki, M.D., Professor of Radiation Oncology, has devoted her life to becoming a scientist, clinician and educator. In 2006, she helped open the Proton Therapy Center at M. D. Anderson - the largest and most sophisticated of its kind - that treats cancer by delivering radiation doses to a targeted tumor with remarkable precision.

  • Guillermina Lozano, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of Genetics, the oldest of six children born to immigrant parents from Mexico, was expected to marry and have children when she grew up. Defying this path, Lozano's cancer research genetics lab is developing ways to replace or correct the abnormal p53 gene, thereby realizing the potential to use gene therapy for some types of cancer.

  • Inspired by her grandmother's teachings of perseverance, discipline, drive and charity, Vickie Shannon, M.D., Professor of Pulmonary Medicine, entered medicine to continue her grandmother's legacy. Facing latent racism - even choosing to study at the same hospital that would not provide her mother healthcare in the 1960s because she was black - she has risen to become one of the first two African American women to be appointed full professor in 2007.


Contact: Tomise Martin
University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center

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