Honoring the Hard Work of Doctors at Moffitt Cancer Center

By Guest Writer - March 29, 2024

At Moffitt Cancer Center, there are countless experts on the frontlines caring for our patients every day. Today, we honor the expertise, dedication and compassion of our doctors at Moffitt. Here you’ll meet just a few of our brightest.


Dr. Dana Ataya
Dr. Dana Ataya, Diagnostic Imaging and Interventional Radiology

Dr. Dana Ataya, Diagnostic Imaging and Interventional Radiology

Why did you get into medicine?

I have always had a deep desire to make an impact in the health and wellbeing of others.  

What’s one lesson you’ve learned from your patients? 

So, when I was a medical student, a patient taught me a really important lesson. They looked at me and they said, “Look. You doctors know a lot, but your patients aren’t going to care how much you know until they know how much you care.” And that was an incredible lesson that stuck with me.  

What advice would you give to future doctors? 

Devote time to self-reflection every day. Find your passion, what fuels you, and pursue it relentlessly. 

What are your ties to cancer? 

Like many team members here at Moffitt, I do have personal ties to cancer. I have several family members that have been impacted by cancer, and that absolutely fuels what I do here every day.  

What’s an initiative you’re working on that you want to see publicized in the future? 

I am co-leading an initiative, a novel research pilot trial with Dr. Aixa Soyano and Dr. Renee Brady-Nicholls, that I am incredibly excited about. It will be the first clinical trial to use eco-evolutionary principles to treat metastatic breast cancer with the goal of helping women diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer live longer. I’m excited to say that we’ll be accruing patients very soon, and this work is based on the tremendous body of work that Dr. Robert Gatenby, Dr. Sandy Anderson, Dr. Joel Brown, and the IMO have done, have led here at Moffitt Cancer Center. 

Share one creative initiative you are leading at Moffitt  

I’m leading a creative series at Moffitt called Collaboratorium Covers with Dr. Mark Robertson-Tessi. The goal of the series is to amplify and highlight the work of collaborative physicians, investigators, and changemakers at Moffitt — and showcase their musical talents in a collaborative cover performed with me and Mark. Throughout history, I’ve always been intrigued to see that innumerable physicians and scientists were also musicians and artists. This series is meant to unearth and spotlight creatives here at Moffitt.   

What’s something people don’t know about you (something unique)?  

Many people who meet me peg me as an extrovert because I’m an empath, I love people and I am not shy. While all of those things are true, I am actually quite introverted in the way I recharge and prefer to spend my time. I enjoy spending solitary time creating art: music, songwriting, painting, poetry — preferably in nature and alongside my husband and daughter.  I’m also very energized by deep philosophical conversations and divergent scientific brainstorming over a cup of coffee.   

If you weren’t a doctor, what would you be?  

One of the things I enjoy most as a physician and medical educator is deconstructing and demystifying complex problems and teaching concepts in a way that gives my patients, trainees and team members frameworks that they can independently apply. I am absolutely energized by seeing the people around me self-actualize and flourish.  If I wasn’t a physician, I would still somehow be called to work with people in that way — to heal, inspire, empower, and facilitate their personal and professional growth.  

How do you establish and build trust with your patients? 

In the same way I establish trust with everyone in my life: clear, compassionate and honest communication.  Showing up authentically.  Clearly communicating verbally and nonverbally how much I care.  Asking the important questions and actively listening.  

Can you talk about your weekly doctor's routine? 

My clinical practice involves interpreting breast imaging studies — mammograms, ultrasounds, breast MRIs — and performing image guided procedures.  I teach fellows, residents and medical students rotating on service.  I have protected time for my funded research projects. 

How do you balance home life, being a doctor, and The ReMissions practices and gigs? 

Everything is scheduled! Some weeks can be a bit hairy, and the “balance” isn’t always perfect.  But our family will always do a check-in and recalibrate when things get busy.  

Are you learning anything new outside of work? 

My husband, Dr. Arthur Parsee, who is also a radiologist here at Moffitt, and I recently participated in a weeklong woodworking workshop.  We learned basic woodworking skills and built two end tables.  We enjoyed it so much that we’re setting up a little shop in the garage.  


Dr. Jobelle Baldonado, Department of Thoracic Oncology
Dr. Jobelle Baldonado, Department of Thoracic Oncology

Dr. Jobelle Baldonado, Department of Thoracic Oncology

Why did you get into medicine?

This may sound like a story that’s full of drama, but it’s real. I watched my mom have a cardiac arrest when I was 12. At the time, in the area where I lived, there was nobody around who was a medical provider. So we had to run to our neighbor’s house, who was a nurse, and she had to help us do CPR. I watched my mom, with an entire crowd of people around her, getting into a car and going to the hospital. And I never saw her alive after that. 

That pain, that loss and that feeling motivated me to know more and be more and not be as helpless as I felt that day. I want to be able to contribute to the people around me who need my help, and medicine was the answer to that. 

What’s one lesson you’ve learned from your patients? 

The lesson would be the value of gratitude. Our patients here at Moffitt every day undergo an incredible amount of pain, suffering and anxiety. But they persevere through it all. And at the end of the day, they always find a way to thank us. They manage to express their immense gratitude despite everything that they’ve been through. In fact, just recently, I had a patient from two years ago whom I did an esophagectomy for thanking me and my team that he’s still alive after two years. It’s amazing that our patients, despite all they’ve been through, are still very thankful for what we do. 

What advice would you give to future doctors? 

I can tell them that this is a journey like no other. It is rough. It is difficult. It requires tons of dedication. You will miss a lot of friends and family gatherings, important family events. You need to read a lot, you need to learn a lot in such a small period of time in order to be able to help patients.  

Despite all of that, to me, it’s a privilege to be able to do this every day. Every day you get a chance to meet a person from a different walk of life. You get to interact with that person. Ultimately, that person will trust you with their health and even trust you with their life. So it is a privilege. It will all be worth it, however hard it is in medical school. 

What is your personal tie to cancer? 

When I was in medical school, my then guardian, my auntie, was diagnosed with locally advanced HER2-positive breast cancer. I can tell you, I had never studied breast cancer that much in my entire medical school stint. She went through the multimodal treatment, and I was there for most of it. She went through remission. She ultimately succumbed to metastatic disease to multiple sites.  

What do you want to accomplish at Moffitt? 

As surgeons, every day, every patient I see in clinic and every patient I operate on, I want to make sure they get the best care from Moffitt and that they have a good experience despite having cancer. It makes everything better if the experience is good. 


Dr. Celeste Bello, Department of Malignant Hematology
Dr. Celeste Bello, Department of Malignant Hematology

Dr. Celeste Bello, Department of Malignant Hematology 

Why did you get into medicine?

The short answer is I like science and wanted to go further in biology and while I was in college my grandfather got prostate cancer so that made me interested in oncology.  

What’s one lesson you’ve learned from your patients?  

I have learned a couple of things. The two most important things that I have learned is to put things into perspective with life. No matter how horrible your day is, it’s not as bad as yours, so that’s something they have taught me. And then also, people are tougher than you think. That’s something I have learned, too.  

What advice would you give to future doctors?  

I would say it’s very important to know your field and be smart and study, but it’s also very important to be compassionate and I think that people only listen to you when they know that you care.  

What’s something people don’t know about you?  

This one usually shocks people, I have a twin sister. Sometimes I have her come work here in my place—just kidding! Unfortunately, we are not identical.  

If you weren’t a doctor, what would you be?  

Probably a lawyer because I talk a lot and always argue my point.  


Dr. Ranjit Chima, Department of Diagnostic Imaging and Interventional Radiology
Dr. Ranjit Chima, Department of Diagnostic Imaging and Interventional Radiology

Dr. Ranjit Chima, Department of Diagnostic Imaging and Interventional Radiology

Why did you get into medicine? 

I got into medicine because I wanted a career that I could apply my talents in the sciences, but also help people and feel rewarded each day for the work that I do. 

And what is the work that you do? 

I work as a radiologist and my specialty is abdominal imaging. 

What is your tie to cancer? 

I have family members who have suffered from various types, but professionally I have an important role in the diagnosis and management of cancer. Oftentimes I’m the one who is finding the cancer, I’m the one tracking the cancer during treatment and reviewing the scans to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned after we’ve treated it. I’m very privileged to have the ability to do that in my job and feel completely involved in the patient’s care. 

What is a lesson that you’ve learned from your patients? 

One would think a radiologist would feel disconnected from the patient because we sit here at the computer and read scans. But I’m very close to the patients because I’m seeing a very intimate part of them. What I’ve learned is to never give up. Seen a lot of scans where there is a lot of cancer in the body and after treatment its miraculous the kinds of recovery we can see from even devastating cancers. That’s what I’ve learned from my patients, never give up and there is always hope. 

What is your advice for future doctors? 

My advice would be medicine is worthwhile. It is difficult and there will be difficult days ahead of you. But always keep in mind why you’re getting into this, to hopefully help people. Keep that in mind and even the worst day can have a rewarding component to it. My encouragement would be it is difficult but at the end of the line you will look back at it and see that it’s worth it, regardless of the challenges you face. 

What is an initiative you’re working on now. 

Very interested in how artificial intelligence can intersect with radiology. In particular, I’m exploring how we can apply AI to abdominal radiology, to not only make us better at what we do, but faster and more efficient. Some fear in the past that radiologists will be replaced by AI. But there is a paradigm shift now where we are embracing the technology and incorporating it into clinical care. 

If you weren’t a doctor, what would you be? 

I’d be a drummer. Percussion is my first love. I Thought I’d be a musician my whole life. But for the reasons I just talked about I picked medicine. My first love really was the drums, started playing since age 4 and I still do it. I’m not as good as I used to be but I still do it. It’s a great stress release activity. Who doesn’t love to just wail on a drum set? 

What’s something people don’t’ know about you? 

I have a very global family. My ethnicity is Indian, but my mother was born in Africa, my father was born in India but was raised in Kenya, also in Africa, and spent his upbringing in the UK. So, I have family scattered everywhere over the globe and international travel has been matter of fact in my life just to see all my family. 

Do you have something specific you want to accomplish at Moffitt? 

I’m early in my career and coming to Moffitt out of private practice because I really want to see some of these ideas in my research come through. Hoping to not only expand my career and become a better radiologist but be a point person for the merging of AI and radiology and I’d like to make that happen. 


Dr. Erin George, Department of Gynecologic Oncology
Dr. Erin George, Department of Gynecologic Oncology

Dr. Erin George, Department of Gynecologic Oncology

Why did you get into medicine?  

I really always loved science and lifelong learning. What I found about medicine, and really patient care, was it actually helped give me direction for my research. It helped me ask questions. It helped me see where areas of unmet need were. And that's what I try to pursue in the work that I do in the lab. And my hope is that what I'm doing there, I will eventually be able to bring to patients in the clinic. 

What is your tie to cancer? 

I love challenges and I think this is really where my tie to cancer is, because cancer certainly is a big one. It's smart, it's elusive. There are so many things that have been discovered in the past few decades that have led to improved treatments, but there's still so much to learn and so much unmet need. 

What's one lesson that you've learned from your patients? 

With the 20% time that I do spend with my patients in the clinic, I learn a lot from them. They're adaptable, they're resilient. It's so impressive. The challenges that are thrown their way, how they can bounce back from tremendous setbacks, and the strength they can draw from themselves, from their families. It's just really impressive and I think a great example of how we should approach all of the challenges that are thrown our way. 

What advice would you give to a future doctor? 

I think really being open-minded is important. There have been so many advancements and amazing discoveries just within the past few decades that have led to improvements in cancer care and the lives of our patients. But there's still so much change that I think is going to happen in the decades to come, and I think being able to embrace that is huge and will really help you move forward in your career. 

What's an initiative that you're working on that you want to see published in the future?  

My current research focuses on overcoming treatment-resistant ovarian cancer, so identifying new targeted therapies, and new approaches to treatment for these patients. What I am hoping to see over the next few years is being able to take the work that I'm doing in the lab to identify a new treatment option for these patients, and then bring it to them in an investigator-initiated trial. Then using platforms I'm developing in the lab to help guide the translational endpoints of that trial. So really looking into the biomarkers of response and resistance for these patients, and understanding why they do respond or don't respond to the treatment I'm giving in of informing future clinical trials and treatment options. 

Do you have something specific you want to accomplish while you're at Moffitt?  

Something I'm looking to accomplish at Moffitt over the next few years is really bringing the work that I can do in the lab at the bench to patients in the clinic. So being able to use the discoveries that I'm finding with preclinical platforms that I'm developing, and then bringing those to patients through a clinical trial. And then also being able to bring what we're finding in the trial back to the lab. It's a constant circle. 

What’s something people don’t know about you?  

Right now, outside of work, my two toddlers consume all my time. I do hope to get back into running. I used to do ultra-marathons before I had kids, so I've done 100-mile runs, 50-mile runs, and I do hope to get back into that someday, but with time. 

If you weren't a doctor, what would you be?  

Before I got into medicine as an undergraduate, I was in biomedical engineering, and I had really considered that as my career, getting my PhD, and then seeing where that took me. I had also been doing some patient volunteering at the fire and rescue department in my hometown.  I got my emergency medical technician certification and was able to work as a patient care tech in the ER over the summers. So that’s what kind of pulled me towards patient care. I found that it was very rewarding and that there was a lot to learn from patients and still a lot of things that needed to be studied. So I ended up going into medicine hoping to eventually do what I'm doing now, which is 80% research, 20% clinical.  


Dr. Alex Lazarides, Department of Sarcoma
Dr. Alex Lazarides, Department of Sarcoma

Dr. Alex Lazarides, Department of Sarcoma

Why did you get into medicine?  

We all get into medicine to help people. I had the opportunity to shadow Dr. Eric Toloza at Duke University and I found medicine to be the perfect avenue to help people, make an impact on their lives and make research advancements. 

What is your tie to cancer?  

My family has always been involved in different areas of cancer care and cancer research. We’ve all had cancer touch our lives with people close to us. Being an orthopedic surgeon, I’ve met lots of people who have had things taken from them, some sense of normalcy and we try to help give them that back. 

What’s one lesson you’ve learned from your patients?  

I’m constantly learning lessons from my patients. The power of listening. The power of being present. The power of people and relationships. There’s nothing more important than meeting your patients where they are a building a genuine relationship. 

What advice would you give to future doctors?  

Go for what you love. If you’re passionate about it, your patients will recognize it and it will translate to more joy in your career, more joy in your patient care and really big changes that will hopefully help patients in the future.  

What’s an initiative you’re working on that you want to see publicized in the future?  

We’re really proud of our metastatic bone disease clinic. That’s a patient population that has an increasing need and can be very challenging with several ongoing medical issues around them. It takes a big team to help take care of those patients and maximize their quality of life. 

Do you have something specific you want to accomplish at Moffitt?  

I think we’ve got unparalleled resources and have an opportunity to take patient care to a next level. A lot of that has to do with research so we’re looking to build our research programs, specifically. Cancer takes a lot from people, functionally. One of the big things that we’re trying to accomplish is to help patients maximize their functional outcomes and figure out better ways of doing things that don’t take so much from their lives. 

What’s something people don’t know about you (something unique)?  

When I was growing up, my brother and I were state champion level pianists. It’s a small circle, but a lot of fun. It mostly involved my brother and I elbowing each other on the piano board. 

If you weren’t a doctor, what would you be?  

I would probably be a fighter pilot. I’ve always had an unhealthy obsession with airplanes. I would want to be on the front lines and making a tangible impact. My son and I love to check out air shows all the time.  


Dr. Tapan Padhya, Department of Head and Neck-Endocrinology
Dr. Tapan Padhya, Department of Head and Neck-Endocrinology

Dr. Tapan Padhya, Department of Head and Neck-Endocrinology

Why did you get into medicine?

It was pre-ordained. I’m a 4th generation doctor dating back to my great-grandfather in India and so, from age five there was never another path. 

What is your tie to cancer?  

When I was a freshman in medical school at Indiana University, my mother was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. 

What’s one lesson you’ve learned from your patients?  

Their intense desire to live. 

What advice would you give to future doctors?  

Pick a specialty, pick a passion that you are happy doing for the next 30-40 years. 

What’s an initiative you’re working on that you want to see publicized in the future?  

Access to healthcare for the underinsured or uninsured patients. 

Do you have something specific you want to accomplish at Moffitt?  

Educating the next generation of surgical oncologists is a big mission. Couple that with meaningful research to find out what we can do to decrease the cancer burden. 

What’s something people don’t know about you?  

I’m a second generation Indian, my parents came here in 1964 as grad students. Our family lived the American dream, that with a lot of hard work and perseverance I’m where I am today because my parents came to America. I think we lose site of the fact of how great the American belief is, and I’d like to think this story resonates with other immigrate families. 

If you weren’t a doctor, what would you be?  

If I weren’t a doctor, I’d probably be in some sort of finance position. 


Dr. Yumeng Julia Zhang, Department of Malignant Hematology
Dr. Yumeng Julia Zhang, Department of Malignant Hematology

Dr. Yumeng Julia Zhang, Department of Malignant Hematology

Why did you get into medicine?  

My mom is a doctor in China, and I love science and the connection with people. Harnessing the power of science through healing is my ultimate goal and matches my core values. 

What is your tie to cancer?  

I really wanted to do cancer during my residency. I was rounding at Moffitt at the Magnolia campus when nivolumab and ipilimumab had just come out. My patient was a 19-year-old girl who had melanoma throughout her whole body that had gone to her brain. She had not been able to walk for the past six months. She received the immunotherapy and she was able to walk again while I was taking care of her. And that’s when I knew I wanted to be a cancer doctor. I want to create that kind of miracle for patients. 

What’s one lesson you’ve learned from your patients?  

Something that resonates with me is that they are resilient in their spirit through the hardest time. They’ve also taught me a lot about love and courage, and how that can help them bring hope in the moments that we feel like there’s no hope. 

What advice would you give to future doctors?  

Find your passion. Know what you want to do, excel in it and then persist. This journey is going to be a long journey, so don’t rush and take your time to develop your skills and your knowledge, which will help you a lot in the future. 

What’s an initiative you’re working on that you want to see publicized in the future?  

I want to make Florida the top state to take care of cutaneous lymphoma. It is a very rare disease, but one of the therapies we have for this is phototherapy. In the Sunshine State we already have a natural advantage of it. I want patients to come to Florida to have a great team of doctors to make sure they also receive the best therapy that they can. 

What’s something people don’t know about you?  

I love to sing and I love to cook. My biggest passion is traveling. I do offshore fishing and a little bit of yachting.  

If you weren’t a doctor, what would you be? 

I would probably want to be a boat captain or a pilot. I love to travel the world and meet different kinds of people. 

 

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