Free Your Toes: From cancer care to retail, Vasques puts people first

Gail Bennison Special to the Business Press

Life is all about being happy and making other people happy, says Dr. DeEtte Vasques, Fort Worth oncologist and new owner of one of the hottest retailing concepts in Tarrant County. “First off, I am super happy to report that seeing cancer day in and day out is not always sad,” Vasques says. “Believe it or not, my patients and I and my staff find a lot to laugh about and are constantly reminded of what we do have to be thankful for, and happy about. Oh, and now I have a great mantra in flip flops: ‘Free your toes and live a stress-free life!” Vasques opened the laid back and casual-surfer-vibed Flip Flop Shops at The Parks of Arlington at I-20 and Cooper on April 11. “The Flip Flop Shops is a very new concept in Texas,” says the center’s marketing manager Debra Martinez. “We are especially excited that we’re one of the first [malls] in the area to have one. It’s unique, it’s fun, they have every different brand of flip flops you could ever wish to have, and with price points just as varied.” Based in California, the franchised shops carry flip flops and sandals for men, women and children. Brands include SANUK, REEF, Cobian, Quiksilver, ROXY, OluKai, Cushe and more. The main reason the busy Vasques, 45, made the venture into retail was for fun and to give work opportunities to young people who want to be in retail sales and management, she says. “And everybody feels happier when they’re in flip flops and going on vacation. I’d wear them all the time if they were allowed in the operating room,” she said. Vasques gave a big opportunity to 22-year-old Kelly Richter (size 9), general manager of the new Flip Flop Shops. Vasques approached Richter about a job in November 2012. “I immediately loved the concept and put in my notice at my previous job,” Richter says. “Do I enjoy my job? I don’t just enjoy my job. I love my job! Think about it, at just 22 years old I have been entrusted with great responsibility, I get to meet new people every day, and flip flops are part of my daily attire. It’s as if this job was tailor-made for me,” she said. Vasques is a great boss and mentor, Richter says. “She imparts knowledge without being condescending. The thing is, she doesn’t make demands that she knows we can’t meet. She knows what all of us are capable of and expects us to perform at our best. Perhaps my favorite part of working for her is that she’s very hands on. When she’s in the shop, she’s as involved as the rest of us. It’s not every day that you see the owner of a business out on the floor working with their employees, rather than sitting in an office and making demands.” After graduating high school in Bozeman, Mont., Vasques joined the United States Navy in 1985 to help with college expenses. After eight years in the Navy, she graduated University of Maryland and started medical school at the Osteopathic Medical School in Philadelphia. She graduated in 1999 and went on to become chief intern in Philadelphia. She moved to York, Penn. for a residency in obstetrics and gynecology, and upon completion in 2004, Vasques practiced obstetrics and gynecology for two years. It was during that time that she found a passion for treating women with female-related cancers. Vasques left practice to do a three-year fellowship in gynecologic oncology and upon completion, moved to Fort Worth. She has practiced at The Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders since 2009. This year she was named a HealthCare Hero by the Fort Worth Business Press. “She demands excellence of her staff, the same way she demands it of herself,” says Vasques’ secretary Danielle Wright. “Working with her makes me want to do better. It’s not just a job, because through her I see how I can touch and change lives. And in a good way, it has changed mine.” Vasques says it’s a privilege and an honor to care for women facing cancer. “As a woman, I can relate to the many different layers of feelings involved with cancer that affects only women,” she said. “I totally get my strength from my patients and my dedicated staff. We take what we do very personally and treat everyone we see as if they are family…. because after their first visit, they are family. I think my patients and I exchange strength through hugs, laughter and even tears sometimes,” she continued. “They constantly remind me how humbling life can be so I can never really have a bad day. I have a pretty standard answer when someone asks me if I am having a good day. I just tell them this: ‘They are all good, just some are better than others.’ I really think we are good at finding an excellent balance between hope and realistic expectations.” Her biggest inspiration, Vasques says: “It comes from people who are driven and passionate about something that gives them the determination to succeed and overcome even when success seems unlikely. I have had the great fortune of being the first to touch a newborn and last to hold the hand of a dying patient… indescribable.” Vasques is single, but her life is always full, she says. She lives in a condo in Fort Worth with her dog, a 12-year-old much-adored blind dog adopted from the Humane Society in Fort Worth. “I focus on my cancer patients, my dog, and my new shop,” she said. Tonza Simon has worked as Vasques’ medical assistant for four years. “When a patient walks in our office, they receive excellent care from the time they meet her to the time they leave,” says Simon. “But it doesn’t stop in the office, because every patient becomes a part of her. I’ve yet to see her give up hope on any patient, and even if they ask the big question ‘How long do I have to live?’ she never puts a time on a patient. She always tells them: “God is the only one who knows that answer.”