5 minute read

Meet the Cancilla Family: From Down Under to Blackhawk

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Photo by Kim Lind Photography
Story by Megan Scott, Blackhawk resident since 2010

It was a love of science that brought Mike and Belinda Cancilla together. They met in 1990 while studying science at a college in Melbourne, Australia. Mike was a senior and Belinda was a sophomore. Mike says it only took one date for both of them to realize that they had great chemistry and were meant to be together, “It was the way she looked at me with those beautiful blue eyes, and I knew she was the one.” Mike proposed on his birthday and after a one-year engagement they were married in 1993.

Originally from Italy, Mike migrated to Australia when he was a child. Belinda was born and raised in Australia. Mike and Belinda are scientists, and both have Bachelor of Science (Honors) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degrees in biological sciences from the University of Melbourne in Australia. “Science is an amazing profession as your own research findings contribute to the existing knowledge base and allow other scientists to advance the field. You can literally link your work back to the earliest publications in chemistry, physics and biology,” shares Mike. “Science is fun, I get to discover something new every day,” adds Belinda.

Mike’s postdoctoral research focused on genetics of pediatric diseases including chromosome abnormalities and Type- 1 diabetes. After Belinda completed her PhD thesis on kidney development, she did postdoctoral research at the Monash Institute focused on prostate cancer. They decided a move to the San Francisco Bay Area would be a good way to expand their research skills and grow their careers; a South San Francisco biotech/pharma company recruited Mike to find new treatments for cancer. Belinda did further postdoctoral prostate research at University of California - San Francisco before also joining a biotech/pharma company to focus on oncology research and treatments.

Mike has remained at the same company for nearly 19 years. He has held positions of increasing responsibility and is currently Vice President of Program Management for oncology drug development. During Mike’s tenure, several drugs were discovered and approved for the treatment of thyroid and kidney cancers. “The most rewarding part of my career is knowing the work I do everyday makes a difference to the lives of cancer patients -- hearing their testimonials is very rewarding and emotional,” says Mike.

Belinda has held positions of increasing responsibility working at two peninsula biotech companies. She is currently the Senior Director of Histopathology, Translational Medicine. During her career she has focused on cancer pathology and biomarkers, which means she spends a lot of time looking at cancer tissues from patients, trying to determine if and how they have responded to new treatments, like immune-oncology therapies, where the patient’s own immune cells are recruited to attack any cancer cells present. Her work in histopathology looks at several biomarkers at once on cells in different colors, and is a bit like coloring in for grown-ups. This is often where her choice of vivid and rainbow hair colors comes from. “I am always thrilled to see that our experimental therapy is giving patients a few extra months beyond their diagnosis to spend with family and loved ones,” says Belinda.

After residing on the peninsula for many years, the Cancillas decided it was time to make a move to the East Bay. “We would regularly drive past Danville on our way to Golden Gate Australian Football league games in Concord, where Mike played and I cheered from the sidelines. We loved the Danville layout and restaurants, and ultimately decided on the perfect family home in Blackhawk,” says Belinda.

Mike and Belinda have two children attending Tassajara Hills Elementary School. Hayden, a 5th grader, and Chantalle, a 4th grader. Hayden and Chantalle both love sports and music. Hayden takes karate lessons and plays soccer. He also plays the trombone in the Tassajara Hills school band. Chantalle also does karate, but her passion is gymnastics and her favorite activity is spinning around on the bars anywhere she can find them. She also plays the flute in the school band. “Her favorite craft activity is making slime, so there has to be a steady supply of glue and glitter in the house.

Hayden loves math, geography and history, whereas Chantalle loves math and creative writing. They are both avid readers and can be seen reading books any time we go out to dinner,” says Belinda.

Running is a favorite pastime for the family. Hayden and Chantalle have participated in several kid races with their parents, and they all got to run the 5K together in this year’s Run For Education for the SRVUSD. Mike has run multiple half and several full marathons, whereas Belinda sticks to the half marathon distance and has run many races. “We love Blackhawk for all the hills and trails, which are perfect for training. I run six days all around Blackhawk. I’m currently training for the Boston Marathon. Blackhawk is a great place to live (and run), we have a wonderful community, great neighbors and access to world class facilities,” says Mike.

Volunteering and giving back to the community is important to the Cancilla Family. Mike volunteers as a head coach for the U12 Kangaroos boy’s soccer team (Mustang Rec League). Belinda has volunteered teaching biology practical classes to middle schoolers at the Ravenswood School District in East Palo Alto for several years. “It has been amazing to see kids discover how exciting science can be, and particularly rewarding to see girls take an interest in STEM subjects and future science careers,” she shares.

Once Mike and Belinda had kids, they kept their travel very family friendly. This past summer, they finally decided it was time for the kids to visit Australia as they were born in California and had never traveled to another country. The family took their summer vacation as a winter vacation in Australia. The kids got to meet all their uncles, aunts and cousins in person. Grandma and Grandpa had been to California many times, and they were excited that they finally visited them. The family visited Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, and even got to go to see their favorite Australian Rules Football team North Melbourne win a game in Brisbane. And yes, they saw lots of kangaroos and koalas.

Thanks to Mustang soccer, the Blackhawk Country Club and and Tassajara Hills Elementary Foundation events, the Cancilla family have had the pleasure of meeting and making new friends in our community and have felt very welcomed. They are thrilled to call Blackhawk home.