Women of Distinction in the Battle Against Cancer

by Tonda Thompson
Illinois CancerCare

A discussion with five physician leaders recognized for their commitment to practice and research

As one of the largest private oncology practices in the nation, Illinois CancerCare, P.C. has been providing comprehensive, compassionate care since 1977, enhancing the lives of patients and their families. Utilizing an integrated approach to cancer treatment and therapies, the team at Illinois CancerCare is comprised of talented medical professionals, including 15 physicians, 25 advanced practice nurses and more than 350 staff members. The organization is also recognized internationally for its research and participation in clinical trials, which leads the way for successful cancer treatments and improves quality of life for cancer patients.

While the field may be dominated by males, a number of female physicians at Illinois CancerCare are responsible for continuing the legacy of care and research originally established by the practice’s founders, Dr. Stephen Cullinan and Dr. James Gerstner.

Drive to Succeed
Madhuri Bajaj, MD; Jane Liu, MD; Nquyet A. Le-Lindqwister, MD; Diane J. Prager, MD; and Nadia Rehman, MD, are five women of distinction at Illinois CancerCare—and all have been recognized for their commitment to practice and research. Most recently, Dr. Liu was acknowledged as the highest enrolling physician for all cancer prevention and symptom management trials available through the NCI Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP). Dr. Bajaj was a recipient of the 2018 Rock Doc award, presented each year to physicians who work in central Illinois, exhibit outstanding patient care, and advance patient care forward through their support in research. She has also been published in a number of medical journals, most recently in the July 2016 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.

When asked what drives them as physicians, all five reference their patients. “Being able to provide cutting-edge cancer care to patients in every one of the communities we serve is the most rewarding experience I can have as a physician,” states Dr. Liu. “It’s about our ability to look at new ways of preventing, detecting and treating cancer while improving the overall quality of life for our patients.”

All of these physicians feel that positive mentorship led to their drive to succeed, compassion to provide care, and ability to lead satisfying and fulfilling lives. In the case of Dr. Rehman, it was her mother who had the most significant influence. “She always offered guidance whenever I needed it… and taught me the importance of strength and independence,” she states.

Dr. Le-Lindqwister, who was raised by her grandmother, adds, “Being a woman in Vietnam during the colonial era, my grandmother was not allowed to pursue an education. She taught herself writing, reading and even how to speak French. She encouraged me to pursue my goals and to aim for the stars.”

Dr. Liu cites Dr. Wendy Stockton at the University of Chicago as a key mentor. “Dr. Stockton is a world-renowned leukemia doctor and researcher. Working closely with her for our patients who have acute leukemia and attending research meetings together paved my career of being a community oncologist/researcher in this field.” Dr. Bajaj adds that her mentor, Dr. Elisabeth Heath, taught her to “balance my career and family.”

A Lasting Legacy
In the coming years, Dr. Le-Lindqwister foresees more patient-centric treatments of cancer, focusing on treatment and care within the community. “There will be more immunotherapy, genetic therapy, and hopefully access to cutting-edge therapy to all patients, regardless of their background or geographic profile.”

“Cancer research in our local communities will flourish,” Dr. Prager adds. “Illinois CancerCare has made it a priority to treat as many patients as possible in their own community—saving them long drives to regional institutions and having them sleep in their own beds.” Dr. Liu is proud of the work that has been done at Illinois CancerCare over the last 40 years and is confident the practice will continue to lead cancer research in central and western Illinois for decades to come.

These five women, in partnership with the entire team at Illinois CancerCare, help deliver state-of-the-art care and make a lasting difference to individuals battling cancer and blood disorders, as well as their families. “We truly have a treasure here with Illinois CancerCare that most communities two to three times larger than ours can only dream about having,” notes Dr. Rehman. iBi

Tonda Thompson is executive director of the Illinois CancerCare Foundation.

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