Mignonne Guy is a researcher at the Mayo Clinic Arizona. Before participating in a panel on closing the cancer mortality gap between blacks and whites, she explained in the Zócalo green room why if you know her or work with her, she’s probably the biggest thorn in your side—and why if you knew her years ago, you might be surprised to find out where she’s gotten and what she’s up to now.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
People who chew with their mouths open. No, you know what it is? People who chew potato chips, and I can hear it. If I can hear anyone chewing, it’s an issue.
How do you pass the time on an airplane?
I sleep or I’m usually working. Today I had a great conversation with a pilot about his family.
If I wanted to bet on you to win something—anything—what should it be?
I’d win the biggest thorn in your side award perhaps. I tend to push for the things I think are right and the things I believe in. It’s part of my work, but it’s why I do my work. I’m driven by trying to sort of create a balance in this world. I have an issue with inequity and inequalities, and I will fight to the end just to make sure that we have a level playing field for everyone. So I would win the biggest thorn in your side.
What teacher or professor, if any, changed your life?
I went to community college for a while because I couldn’t really figure out what direction I wanted to go in terms of my career or education. I had an English teacher named Patricia Zaccardo, and I ended up acknowledging her in my dissertation. She was the first person who said to me, “You should go to school and you should get a Ph.D.,” which was pretty strange because people had always treated me as if were just the funny kid in the back of the room. She was able to see something in me that I wasn’t able to see in myself.
It’s your last meal; what do you order?
Probably king crab legs and lobster, and the biggest vat of butter you could possibly find. That’s not going to impress too many vegans or vegetarians. Sorry, but I love what I love. And—it wouldn’t match—but I’d still have a nice malbec or a nice zinfandel with it.
What do you wake up to?
My e-mail on my iPhone and my two dogs.
Did you have any pets as a kid?
I had a dog. And a rabbit. And a hamster. And I think that was it. I’ve always had animals, actually. My husband always tells me that when he dies he wants to come back as one of my dogs.
What do you do to clear your mind?
I haven’t managed clearing my mind well in the past. A friend just sent me a book on meditating and mindful meditation, but I haven’t received the book yet, so I haven’t mastered anything. But for the most part when I’m in Tucson where my house is, I work in my garden—I do desert gardening—beccause that’s when I can turn everything off. That’s probably the only way that I can do it.
What is your most prized material possession?
I have to be honest. I don’t have one.
What surprises you most about your life right now?
That I’m still in research, and that I’m doing research in the area of cancer prevention, and that I’m at the Mayo Clinic, considering that I’m this kid who started out at a community college and took a long time to get through school, and I was on my own from age 15 on because both my parents were gone. I could have gone in a completely different direction. I couldn’t believe I went into studying cancer, because my mom died of pancreatic cancer, and I didn’t speak to anyone for two years after that. Everything comes full circle, and you come back and do things you never would have expected.