In the broad domain of oncology, it’s quite possible that you won’t find anyone as happy as a radiation oncologist, according to Carol Marquez. She’s been one for over 25 years, and is perhaps the perfect embodiment of the aforementioned statement.
“You’ll never meet a medical oncologist as happy as a radiation oncologist. We’re so happy!” she said. “I’ve been busy, busy, busy in my life, but I’ve never felt burned out.”
Ever since she was a child, Marquez was destined for health care. She was the kid that others turned to when a peer skinned their knee on the playground.
“I don’t know why,” Marquez laughed. “It was just my thing. I wasn’t the best science student in the school- my drive was really about being a doctor.”
Marquez received her undergraduate degree from Harvard, and went on to University of California San Francisco for medical school. Along the way, she discovered her passion for caring for cancer patients, after initially wanting to be an OB/GYN.
“I did OB/GYN but didn't like it. I did like taking care of cancer patients on my GYN rotation, and ended up doing a rotation in radiotherapy and really liked it. And then I just liked cancer patients from then on, no matter what service I did,” she remembered.
Marquez is drawn to the modality’s ability to locate and fix a problem within the human body; she appreciates the anatomical perspective and the surgical mindset it requires. She completed a fellowship at Stanford, where she worked under the guidance of radiotherapy legends Richard Hoppe, MDand Steven Hancock, MD. Being immersed in radiation oncology with incredible mentors helped cement her choice in the field, and fueled her life-long love of learning.
After graduating, Marquez trekked across the Pacific Northwest to Oregon, where she worked at Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU) for 23 years. There, she made an amazing network of fellow radiation oncologists and enthusiasts, cementing her choice in the field. Even today, she keeps in touch with her former colleagues to talk shop.
“I could talk about work for a long time, any given day, about the work that we’re doing in clinic. We all like what we do!” Marquez said, backing up the assertion that “rad onc-ers” are the happiest in the business. “I’ve always had a lot of people who were very inspiring to me that I’ve been very fortunate to work with. I’ve met far more doctors who really love it than people who hate it, which makes it so easy.”
As her family grew and kids flew the nest, it was time for Marquez to return home to Stanford. Serendipitously, it was at that time that Cancer Center South Bay (CCSB) opened its doors, presenting an opportunity for her to land back amongst her roots, initially working with Patrick Swift, MD and now as medical director of radiation oncology.
CCSB was established, in part, to bring care closer to those in the Bay Area and surrounding counties who have difficulty commuting to the primary facility in Palo Alto. Patients may not possess the means of transportation, physical ability, or desire to travel great distances for daily treatments, some of which can last for up to eight weeks. So, the solution was clear: bring the treatment, expertise, and clinical innovation to those who need it. From humble beginnings, the facility is now treating over 50 patients a day with the best equipment and advanced treatment techniques in the field.
Today, her practice is primarily focused on breast cancer patients, but over her career she’s treated patients with brain tumors, gynecologic tumors and pediatric tumors. Still, she remains amazed at the dynamism of the field before her, and looks forward to learning something new every week.
“In the past two years, I’ve marveled at how there are things I’m still learning [about radiation oncology]. There are still patterns I am recognizing but I’ve never seen before. You'd think I would’ve figured all that out by now, and that there would be nothing new to see, but that’s not the case at all,” she remarked.
For Marquez, learning new things keeps life interesting. She often takes advantage of the classes offered at Stanford: currently, she is enrolled in a course on sacred mountains around the globe. Before that, she earned the 200 hours required to become a certified yoga instructor. The list goes on, and shows no signs of slowing down. Marquez is hard to tire, and her practice continues to fulfill her passion for compassion.
“I’m amazed that I’ve continued to change. Looking back at the past seven years that I’ve been here [Stanford], the things that I’ve learned and been able to take advantage of have been great. I really couldn’t ask for more.”