Nearly 3,000 dedicated, motivated and caring nurses proudly call MD Anderson their home away from home. Each year, one who reflects excellence in all aspects of oncology nursing is carefully selected as the recipient of the prestigious Ethel Fleming Arceneaux Award — an honor established by The Brown Foundation, Inc. in 1982.
This year’s winner, Colleen Villamin, has subconsciously been training to become the outstanding nurse-oncologist she is today since she was 12 years old. Living in a household with four generations of family members, Colleen had ample opportunity to practice her nursing skills on her great-grandmother and grandfather.
"Her aunt, who was a nurse, gave her a surgical mask,” recalls Colleen’s grandmother, Phyllis Masterson. “When she took care of my mother, she’d tap her knee with a rubber mallet, wear the mask — the whole nine yards.”Villamin had been an integral part of MD Anderson’s Stem Cell Transplantation & Cellular Therapy Department since 2005. In June, her role in the Clinical Nurse Leader Master’s program at University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston required her to transfer to Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery.
“Hearing that Colleen was leaving was heartbreaking for the whole staff,” says Roxy Blackburn, associate director of stem cell and Villamin’s former manager. “We’re excited for her and thrilled for that floor. They’re going to get an exceptional nurse who brings infectious enthusiasm.”
On June 5, the day of the Arceneaux Award ceremony, Villamin received a cash award of $15,000, a crystal plaque and a commemorative pin. She gave a speech to a large group of friends, family, colleagues and former Arceneaux winners, humbly claiming that she still wasn’t sure whether she deserved such an honor.
“There are so many wonderful people who work at MD Anderson. It’s a special place and most people don’t ever get such recognition,” Villamin says. “I highly respect and admire the former winners, and for my name to be in the same list as theirs is completely amazing.”
“Patients tell me Colleen is a gem. They say, ‘She’s the best nurse I’ve ever had.’ They ask if I can clone her,” Blackburn says. “She connects to patients in a way that’s so professional yet so personal. She really knows her patients. It’s that profound.”
The Brown Foundation emphatically requests that winners use their prize money to make memories with their loved ones, a stipulation with which Villamin happily complied. She used part of her prize to take a cruise with her husband and two young sons for some much needed R&R.