Olga Matylevich
N.N. Alexandrov National Cancer Centre of Belarus
Minsk, Belarus

Where did you complete your training? Or tell us about your background in gyn oncology.
I graduated from Gomel Medical School in 1992. I was in the first graduating class of this medical school. It opened following the Chernobyl disaster. Gomel is located 85 miles North of Chernobyl and its region was one of the most affected by the radioactive fallout. I finished my residency and gynecologic oncology fellowship at NN Alexandrov National Cancer Centre of Belarus in 2001. I combined this training with a PhD program, defended my thesis the same year and joined Cancer Center research division.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in gyn oncology or what about it interested you?
My mother was a gynecologic oncologist. For over 40 years she worked at Gomel Regional Oncological Center. When I was a child, we would visit her at the hospital and bring her dinner when she was doing overnight and weekend calls. She had a very close group of friends and colleagues. Their dinner parties were always filled with discussions of clinical cases. So, I never questioned what career path I would take, it just came with the territory.

Tell us about your work in women’s cancer: daily activities and/or special projects.
Mornings usually start with clinical rounds, followed by surgery cases in the operating room or seeing new and follow up patients at the clinic. I run workshops with regional hospitals to review difficult cases and help them with treatment protocols. Developing cervical cancer treatment in Belarus is one of the projects I have been heavily involved in the last few years.

Tell us about the person or people who have inspired you the most in your career.
My first lessons in the operating room were from my mother during my internship. But when I moved to Minsk, Professor Ekaterina Vishnevskaya (the Head of Gynecologic Oncology Department at that time) became my professional and life mentor. She was an old time. She treated the patient, not the disease. She also demanded complete dedication to the study and work, barely leaving any time for life outside the hospital. She wrote numerous diagnostic and treatment manuals and monographs. She inspired me to dedicate a large part of my career to medical research.

What is the most rewarding part of your career?
I think the most rewarding part of my career is the introduction and development of fertility-sparing surgeries for gynecological cancer patients in Belarus. A cancer diagnosis is devastating by itself, but it hurts even more for a woman who wants to have children. Working on advances in the field has been the most rewarding part of my work.

What is one of the biggest challenges in gyn cancer care in your region? What resources are lacking?
The biggest challenge in gyn cancer care in Belarus right now is the absence of  a national cervical cancer screening program. We are lacking the necessary diagnostic equipment on sites and organizational structure in general.

How long have you been a member and how did you become involved with IGCS?
I joined IGCS in 2017 and became a member of the IGCS Education Committee, Steering Committee in 2018. My introduction to IGCS happened when I became involved in Project ECHO. In the course of our conference, I got to know the leadership and the infrastructure of this community of dedicated women cancer specialists.

Is there a story/example of a time you were especially proud of your involvement with IGCS?
I think the atmosphere of genuine cooperation among members can be appreciated on a daily basis in many different ways. I am proud of our local team members who present cases for ECHO meetings and write research protocols and presentations. We immensely appreciate all the help we receive from our colleagues worldwide. I greatly value the mentorship of Dr. Kathleen Schmeler from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas (USA), and Drs. Jubilee Brown and Wendel Naumann from the Levine Cancer Institute, Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina (USA). Some of their mentorship includes hosting our team members in their departments for observerships and fellowships and working on research publications.

Do you have any hobbies or is there an interesting fact about your life that you’d like to share?
My husband is an avid gardener and I enjoy helping him. We spend our free time tending to our flower beds, fruit trees and vegetables in the green houses. I try to bring seeds for our garden from every place that I visit. The ornamental Indian corn seeds I brought from my trip to Texas for my observership at the MD Anderson Cancer Center was a big hit among friends.

What is a unique or fun fact about your country or community culture?
When we travel abroad and introduce myself, many people I meet do not know where Belarus even is. However, we are proud to be the homeland of five Nobel Peace Prize winners: Simon Kuznets (Economic Sciences in 1971), Zhores Alferov (Physics in 2000), Shimon Peres (Peace Prize in 1994), Menachem Begin (Peace Prize in 1997) and Svetlana Alexievich (Literature in 2015). Perhaps the most famous of all people from Belarus is Marc Chagall, a master of avant-garde art.

Does your country/region have a traditional food or drink? Do you like it?
The potato is a staple of the Belarusian menu. We rarely have a meal without a potato dish. We have over one thousand potato recipes to choose from such as a layered potato cake called tukmachi and meat dumplings wrapped in potato called kalduny. My favorite is draniki, which is grated potato pancakes with sour cream or bacon.