*Dr. Alice Villalobos, DVM, FNAP*
Alice graduated with a DVM degree in 1972, and was the first person in the world to conduct a veterinary practice designed especially for diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Alice did not have a formal education in a clinical oncology program acknowledged by academic institutions, because none existed at the time. However, I taught her what I knew about clinical oncology and always refer to her as “my first resident.” More importantly, she learned to be a clinical scientist on her own, working for me in my lab part time. Her astuteness in our oncology service and working for me several hours a week for three years led to the knowledge needed in starting an oncology practice. Her practice within a short time was a huge success, as Alice is an innovator and thinker. During her time in veterinary school at UC Davis, she averaged 20 hours a week for three years with me in the developing oncology service. Alice gained enormous clinical experience at UC Davis and UCLA’s Leo Rigler Center, Department of Radiological Sciences, where she worked every Thursday with Hal Snow, DVM, and Leslie R. Bennett, M.D. Alice was a clinical research affiliate for years at UCLA. Her learning curve paralleled my experience by gaining knowledge during three different sabbatical years at major human cancer research centers in the United States, England, and Germany.
Alice established the first private animal cancer care center in the world, as she achieved international leadership in the new discipline of veterinary cancer medicine. Her pioneering efforts led to establishing a practice that thrived for a quarter of a century and provided internships and externships for newly graduated veterinary students in medical aspects of neoplasia and treatment, including radiotherapy. After selling her practice to Veterinary Centers of America, Alice started Pawspice, an end-of-life care program that emphasized quality of life and offered kinder and gentler cancer and palliative care to advanced and terminal patients. She went on to lead and help establish the new field of veterinary hospice and palliative care. She is known as the “Mother of Veterinary Hospice” and “Queen of Animal Quality of Life.”
She was founding member of the Veterinary Cancer Society, which expanded internationally to several thousand members. She received the Leo Bustad Human Animal Veterinary Award, a prestigious distinction. I was honored to speak in acknowledging her recognition. In addition, she was presented with the UC Davis Veterinary School Alumni Achievement Award. Thousands of veterinarians have graduated from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, and only a few have been so honored.
Alice authored Canine and Feline Geriatric Oncology, published by Blackwell in 2007. It was dedicated to cancer patients and, proudly, to me. This outstanding book details the animal-human bond so frequently encountered in veterinary oncology. It is not uncommon for a pet owner to say, “Doc, please save my pet, it is the only friend I have.” Often, pet owners anticipate anticipatory grief, or they will project emotional feelings onto a pet dying of cancer. They may be frozen with fear, and they may require skilled and compassionate communication from their veterinarian and oncologist when their pet is diagnosed with severe advanced cancer, as if it were a loved one in the human family who is not expected to live or had just died.
I was honored and blessed to have Dr. Alice Villalobos as one of my students. As a person, Alice has my greatest respect, a humbled veterinarian. She does things behind the veil of everyday hubbub of life in this way, achieving more than most.
Alice has been like an adopted daughter, showing love to me in my endeavors and to my wonderful wife. Alice has often stayed with us while on trips to UC Davis, and has made special trips to celebrate birthdays and wedding anniversaries. The most memorable of these were my retirement party in 1993, our 50th and 60th wedding anniversaries, and celebration of Carolyn’s 82nd and my 85th and 88th birthdays. During my 88th birthday, we were together at the 4th International Veterinary Cancer Congress, held at the end of May 2016 in Iguassu, Brazil.
She shared joy and sorrow being in touch on a frequent basis from her time of graduation in 1972. I am proud of Alice’s achievements and highly respect her optimism. I never
anticipated when developing the specialty of veterinary cancer medicine that there would be such respect and camaraderie from students as well as enduring friendships. This was an
unanticipated positive spin-off from establishment of the specialty of veterinary cancer medicine. Wow – just thinking of it makes my heart jump with joy in wonderment of the
enormous abilities of a former student that became a respected colleague.
(Excerpted from *One Medicine War on Cancer* by Gordon H. Theilen, DVM, DACVIM-Oncology)