Skip to main content

Isabel E. Villar: A Meaningful Life

It would be an understatement to say that Isabel E. Villar has lived a meaningful life.

In 1966, she came to the United States from Cuba with her family—"with the clothes on my back and a suitcase full of dreams." Then a teenager, Isabel quickly became involved in her new town of White Plains, New York.

Fast forward 50 years to the present and find Isabel putting her three master's degrees (in languages, teaching, and counseling) to good use as founder and director of El Centro Hispano, a community center that helps Hispanic men and women in the area find jobs, education, and access to health care.

When the vivacious Isabel was diagnosed with ovarian cancer during a routine exam in the spring of 2008, it came as a tremendous shock.

"Two weeks before I had been swimming in the Dominican Republic with my family—and then my life changed," she recalls.

After she asked a friend to find the New York hospital that offered the best treatment for ovarian cancer, Isabel fell under the care of a renowned gynecologic oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK), Dr. David Spriggs.

After surgery, she began a regimen of powerful chemotherapy. Finding these treatments very difficult, she started asking an age-old question: "Why me?"

Looking back on that hard time, she reflects, "I'd spent my entire life helping people, so I kept wondering why I had been chosen to go through this."

I'm here because of Memorial Sloan Kettering.

—Isabel E. Villar

Isabel found her answer by doing what she had done her whole life: She began counseling men and women who also faced a cancer diagnosis, offering both emotional and practical support. Her contribution was palpable and did not go unnoticed. In her honor, El Centro Hispano's board started a fund to help others in the community pay for extra costs associated with their hospital visits.

Because she, herself, was diagnosed without symptoms, Isabel encourages others to keep up with their yearly gynecologic screenings.

"I am an advocate for people to be aware of their bodies—especially women—because you have to know what you're dealing with," she says.

Her role at El Centro Hispano puts her in a unique position to help others find the best treatment for their disease, as this undertaking sometimes intimidates individuals with limited English.

Throughout her treatment, she never stopped working, as she found El Centro Hispano to be her therapeutic outlet.

"To be there was a way to forget about myself and concentrate on the problems other people have. And my work here—which is also my passion—has given me the hope and motivation to continue what I'm doing."

Very aware of life's fragility, Isabel continues to live her own life to the fullest. A world-traveler, she plans to visit her 93rd country this spring when she attends a festival in Valencia, Spain, the town recognized as the birthplace of the seafood soup paella. And she is very active at her parish, where she enjoys playing the piano and singing—leading the Hispanic choir for 50 years.

Grateful to MSK and her medical team, Isabel says, "I'm here because of Memorial Sloan Kettering."

As a way of expressing her deepest thanks, she began making regular contributions to MSK and decided to include the cancer center in her estate plan.

"Dr. Spriggs has been my inspiration. I know that it's a battle, but I am a person of faith, and this is a challenge that we all face together," she says.

Memorial Sloan Kettering gratefully acknowledges her visionary commitment to the Center's future and recognizes her as a member of the Cullum Society.

Click here to read other inspiring stories of support.

A charitable bequest is one or two sentences in your will or living trust that leave to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center a specific item, an amount of money, a gift contingent upon certain events or a percentage of your estate.

An individual or organization designated to receive benefits or funds under a will or other contract, such as an insurance policy, trust, or retirement plan.

I bequeath to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, a New York nonprofit corporation having a principal place of business at 1275 York Avenue, New York, NY 10065, Federal Tax ID #13-1924236, ____percent of my total estate (or $_____, or other property) to be used or disposed of as Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in its sole discretion deems appropriate.

able to be changed or cancelled

A revocable living trust is set up during your lifetime and can be revoked at any time before death. They allow assets held in the trust to pass directly to beneficiaries without probate court proceedings and can also reduce federal estate taxes.

cannot be changed or cancelled

tax on gifts generally paid by the person making the gift rather than the recipient

the original value of an asset, such as stock, before its appreciation or depreciation

the growth in value of an asset like stock or real estate since the original purchase

the price a willing buyer and willing seller can agree on

The person receiving the gift annuity payments.

the part of an estate left after debts, taxes and specific bequests have been paid

a written and properly witnessed legal change to a will

the person named in a will to manage the estate, collect the property, pay any debt, and distribute property according to the will

A donor-advised fund is an account that you set up but which is managed by a nonprofit organization. You contribute to the account, which grows tax-free. You can recommend how much (and how often) you want to distribute money from that fund to MSK or other charities. You cannot direct the gifts.

An endowed gift can create a new endowment or add to an existing endowment. The principal of the endowment is invested and a portion of the principal’s earnings are used each year to support our mission.

Tax on the growth in value of an asset—such as real estate or stock—since its original purchase.

Securities, real estate, or any other property having a fair market value greater than its original purchase price.

Real estate can be a personal residence, vacation home, timeshare property, farm, commercial property, or undeveloped land.

A charitable remainder trust provides you or other named individuals income each year for life or a period not exceeding 20 years from assets you give to the trust you create.

You give assets to a trust that pays our organization set payments for a number of years, which you choose. The longer the length of time, the better the potential tax savings to you. When the term is up, the remaining trust assets go to you, your family or other beneficiaries you select. This is an excellent way to transfer property to family members at a minimal cost.

You fund this type of trust with cash or appreciated assets—and may qualify for a federal income tax charitable deduction when you itemize. You can also make additional gifts; each one also qualifies for a tax deduction. The trust pays you, each year, a variable amount based on a fixed percentage of the fair market value of the trust assets. When the trust terminates, the remaining principal goes to MSK as a lump sum.

You fund this trust with cash or appreciated assets—and may qualify for a federal income tax charitable deduction when you itemize. Each year the trust pays you or another named individual the same dollar amount you choose at the start. When the trust terminates, the remaining principal goes to MSK as a lump sum.

A beneficiary designation clearly identifies how specific assets will be distributed after your death.

A charitable gift annuity involves a simple contract between you and MSK where you agree to make a gift to MSK and we, in return, agree to pay you (and someone else, if you choose) a fixed amount each year for the rest of your life.

A tax imposed at one's death on the transfer of most types of property. Currently federal estate taxes are assessed in 2019 on estates worth more than $11.2 million. The maximum estate tax rate is 40 percent. Some states also impose taxes at death that vary depending on state law.

A written legal instrument created by a grantor for the benefit of him/herself (during life) or others (during life or at death).

A revocable trust established by a grantor during his or her lifetime in which the grantor transfers some or all of his or her property into the trust.

Equity or debt instruments, typically shares listed on a stock exchange, which can be readily bought or sold.