Get to know Marlon Garzo Saria, PhD, RN, FAAN, ONS Leadership Development Committee member from 2020–2023. Marlon is an oncology clinical nurse specialist at John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. 

Marlon Garzo Saria, PhD, RN, FAAN
Marlon Garzo Saria, PhD, RN, FAAN

How long have you been a nurse? 

I have been a nurse for over 21 years now. I received my nursing degree from the University of the Philippines in April 1998 and my California nursing license in January 1999.  

What led you to oncology nursing? 

My paternal and maternal grandmothers died from breast cancer. Although that would make for a really good story, using that as the reason why I am an oncology nurse would be a lie. I was a new foreign graduate nurse who was rejected by every single acute care hospital in San Diego, CA, for lack of experience. The only institution that granted me an interview was University of California Medical Center. I was offered a position as a new graduate intern on the inpatient oncology and solid abdominal organ transplant unit. I accepted the only option available to me at that time—beggars can’t be choosers. 

What was your first experience with ONS? 

ONS Congress 2001! My manager to attend Congress, which was held in San Diego that year. I was unacquainted with professional associations and I just expected to listen to smart people talk for four days. Well, anyone who has been to Congress will know how that expectation quickly changed when I experienced the reality. I got overwhelmed with emotions at the opening ceremonies and the parade of chapters and international delegates. ONS President Paula Rieger, RN, MSN, CAE, FAAN, awed and inspired me when she challenged oncology nurses to take a seat at the table as she introduced the bench-to-bedside session speakers. I celebrated and had a grand time at the welcome reception under the fabric roof of the sails pavilion at the San Diego Convention Center. Plus, I got to carry bags upon bags of textbooks, pads, pens, stress balls, mugs, and package inserts home. 

What role has ONS served in your career? 

I can’t think of any other entity that has influenced my career more profoundly than ONS. ONS provided me with a strong, stable foundation to build my oncology nursing career on. I was an ONS Writing Mentorship Program Fellow (2005) before I became an editor. I was an ONS Research Grant-Writing Education Program Fellow (2006) before I started exploring research and the PhD program. I was an ONS Leadership Development Institute graduate (2009) before I was elected as secretary of the Board of Directors.  

What relationships and connections have you made through ONS that you wouldn’t have found otherwise? 

I will mention three of the very many relationships I have made through ONS:  

  • Cindy Jones, RN, MS, is now retired and lovingly referred to as the mother of oncology nursing in San Diego. Cindy saw me walking aimlessly at the San Diego convention center during the 2001 Congress. She approached me, asked me if I was a member of the San Diego chapter, and invited me to attend the first meeting, where she introduced me as their future president. I don’t remember what Tagalog (Filipino) words came out of my mouth at that time, but I remember how flushed my brown-skinned face was at that moment. 
  • The second person is Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing (CJON) past editor Deborah K. Mayer, PhD, RN, FAAN, AOCN®. Imagine receiving a call from the editor of the journal that published your one-and-only paper, inviting you to be an associate editor. I bet you can’t. She took a huge risk (at the recommendation of a UCLA professor and one of my greatest mentors, Nancy Jo Bush, RN, MN, MA, FAAN, DNP, AOCN®) asking me to join the editorial team for CJON.  
  • The third person is past editor of the Core Curriculum for Oncology Nursing Joanne Itano, RN, PhD. Similar to my story with CJON, I received an email asking me if I was interested to be a section editor for the fifth edition of the celebrated oncology textbook. I was blown away by the thought that my name would be on the cover of “the definitive oncology nursing resource.” 

How did you get involved in ONS leadership? 

I completed an application to be a member of the Congress Planning Committee. I was on the planning team in 2006 when Congress was moved from New Orleans to a newly constructed convention center in Boston after Hurricane Katrina and in 2007 when Congress broke the record for attendance in Las Vegas. 

What has been your proudest moment as an oncology nurse? 

In January of this year, I was recognized with a special award by the Philippine Oncology Nurses Association (PONA). The words of Cecilia G. Peña, past president of PONA, will be etched on my memory forever: “You are the inspiration of PONA. Thank you for supporting our endeavors. We survive because we know that there are people like you who believe that we can achieve and do even more.”  

I was so moved by the gesture that I decided to establish the Marlon Garzo Saria Excellence in Cancer Nursing Research Award. The inaugural award will be presented at the 2021 PONA convention. 

What is your biggest challenge in oncology nursing today, and how can ONS help? 

The oncology nursing workforce shortage is one of the biggest challenges. It directly influences my work, and the impact is even more profound on the larger global stage. ONS needs to continue the work to encourage a more diverse workforce and bridge the generational, gender, racial, and digital divide. ONS will need to be more purposeful in engaging gender, racial, ethnic, and language minorities into oncology nursing.   

What word would you say describes you? 

Smiles a lot (sorry, that’s not one word) 

What do you enjoy doing outside of nursing and why?

I enjoy hiking and climbing mountains. Every time I get on a trail, I do a lot of self-reflection. I notice that the shared experience of overcoming an obstacle (elevation) makes climbers and hikers kinder to each other. I notice how a word of encouragement from a hiking partner or a stranger can give you additional strength and grit, at times when you think you have nothing left. A stranger once said to me when I was about to turn around and head back to the trailhead, “If you quit now, it will be easier for you to quit every other challenge you will face in life.” Mountain climbing is a metaphor for life.