Duke breast cancer researcher honored for Women’s History Month

Apr. 08, 2014 @ 05:00 PM

It wasn’t until the day after Kimberly Blackwell returned from Joe and Jill Biden’s home – where close to 100 of this generation’s most successful female leaders packed together to celebrate Women’s History Month – that the impact of mingling with greats such as Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, CNN Crossfire anchor Stephanie Cutter, Girls on the Run founder Molly Barker and countless others really hit her.

“To be standing with this group of women and to realize that we are making history was so invigorating,” Blackwell said. “But truthfully the real kicker for me came when I was driving my son to school the day after the event, and he asked me if I was around when women weren’t allowed to vote.
“That really took me aback because, if you think about it, less than a century ago women in the United States weren’t allowed to vote,” Blackwell said. “To think that things have changed so much … that I can lead a large cancer effort … and that the vice president and his wife can assemble a whole group of female leaders who are changing history really speaks to how far we’ve come.”
As a way to end the celebration of women during the month of March, the Bidens opened their personal residence on March 27 to honor the country’s leading women and celebrate their accomplishments in various fields. Blackwell, designated as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2013, was recognized for her cutting-edge research in breast cancer treatment at Duke University.
The theme of this year’s reception was mentorship among women. The Bidens asked the honored woman to bring either their personal mentors or someone in their field whom they’ve mentored. Blackwell brought Dr. Carey Anders, her mentee-turned- friend.
Blackwell and Anders, who now works in the UNC Oncology Center, met in 2002 when Anders began her residency in internal medicine at Duke.
“One Saturday morning I asked [Anders] what she wanted to do, and she said she was interested in women’s health,” Blackwell said. “At the time I was a young faculty member here at Duke, and I said, ‘Boy, do I have a job for you.’
“That week I told her [she] needed to do breast cancer work,” Blackwell said. “I said, ‘It’s got science, there’s a huge need for it and it helps women.”’
This simple suggestion from Blackwell influenced Anders to pursue a specialty in hematology-oncology and blossomed into a six-year mentorship during Anders’ training at Duke Medical School.
“[Blackwell] was able to help me assemble [my] interests into a career in breast oncology, which has been more fulfilling than I would have ever dreamed,” Anders said. “We have and continue to work on many breast cancer related projects including clinical trials, analysis of the biology of breast cancer and quality of life.
“Even though I’m at UNC and she is at Duke, we still communicate and collaborate quite regularly,” Anders said.
Since working with Anders, Blackwell has mentored six additional women entering the medical field and committed herself to “helping the next generation of female leadership,” Blackwell said. 
“Successful women fostering a tradition of female leadership by providing mentorship to other young women in their field – it’s the key to success,” Blackwell said.
Blackwell believes that serving as a role model both professionally and personally for females is one of the most important ways that she can encourage women to enter the science, technology, engineering and math fields.
“The important role that female mentors play is showing that you can have a fabulous career, you can help people and you can have a family,” Blackwell said. “It’s not easy, but it’s possible.”
Blackwell spoke of her father’s reaction when she was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People.
“When I told him, I remember saying to him ‘who would’ve ever thought,’” Blackwell said. “He interrupted me and said ‘oh not only would I have thought, but I was expecting you to run for president.’”
Blackwell said that her father’s reaction indicated the encouraging and uplifting nature of her parents, who believed she could do whatever and be whoever she wanted.
“It’s these sorts of environments where young boys and girls are raised to do whatever they want that are so important,” Blackwell said. “If people believe that being a man or a woman shouldn’t differentiate desire and success, someday it won’t.”