Ellie Guardino, MD, Battled Others’ Cancer, Has Died of Her Own

The oncology community mourns the loss of Ellie Guardino, MD, PhD, a compassionate physician-scientist who battled through her own diagnosis of metastatic melanoma while contributing to major advances in breast cancer treatment.

Dr. Ellie Guardino Alamy

Guardino died on April 21 after living with the disease for 13 years. She was 55 and is survived by her husband, Jeff Guardino, MD, and three children.

Family, friends and colleagues have commented that Guardino’s diagnosis did not change her approach to life. In any case, it reinforced her vision.

“Ellie was born to do something. Ellie was born to help people survive disease … to help make the world a better place,” said her oncologist Charlotte Jacobs, MD, Ben and A. Jess Shenson Professor of Medicine (Emerita ) at Stanford University in a Stanford video tribute to Guardino.

After the diagnosis, “I had a chance to re-evaluate whether I was doing everything I wanted to do, and the answer was yes, I wouldn’t have done anything else,” Guardino said in a podcast interview a few months before her death.

She described her purpose as “serving others and making an impact” and her passion “to make a difference and find curative therapies or a way to prevent cancer altogether” as the driving force behind her career.

“I truly believe that in our lifetime we can actually see the treatments for all cancers,” she said on NBC’s Today Show last summer. “Cancer is a pandemic, just like COVID is a pandemic, and if we see it that way, we can speed up the investigation.”

When she was diagnosed with melanoma, Guardino was on the faculty at Stanford University, but 2 years later she moved to Genentech as vice president and global head of oncology in personalized health care. The move helped her maintain a practice, as well as accelerate her “higher goal” of moving drugs through phase 3 trials and making them available to patients. At Genentech, she was responsible for the global filing of the company’s T-DM1 (Kadcyla) and also worked on pertuzumab (Perjeta) and trastuzumab (Herceptin).

Maintaining her clinical work was extremely important to Guardino, who felt that her patients were helping her through her own cancer pathway and vice versa. “One thing I often hear from my patients is this overwhelming feeling of anxiety and stress … and I try to explain to them that if you are worried about tomorrow, you cannot be there and enjoy today … No one is fearless, but going to a place where you can handle it and live every day to the fullest is crucial … I taught my patients how to do that, and now it was real for me , “she said .

For her, “faith over fear” was the way out of the dark places, and it helped her become a better patient.

“We have to embrace our community and our faith to be successful. I don’t think I would be alive if all those people didn’t support me. I think that’s as important as any drug we get,” said Guardino. “But I’m confident it will work out anyway. If there’s a greater need or plan that God has, I’ll be there.”

Ultimately, Guardino supported a life with a mission, including service.

“It has been an incredible life for me,” she said, describing the privilege she felt to contribute to advances in cancer treatment. “The most important thing for all of us in this world is to feel that we have lived meaningful lives and opportunities to serve others in some way.”

Guardino wanted her children to “always know that you can achieve what you want to achieve or, like me, be open to other paths and other dreams …” She further advised them: “Wake up in the morning, look and see what you can do, what you can give and enjoy the day. “

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