The Early Bird
Today’s screening methods are increasingly effective at catching cancer in time to manage the disease, and lifestyle changes can help prevent it from developing in the first place. If we know prevention and early detection are so vital, why, then, is this potentially lifesaving tune so often tuned out?
One morning in August 2009, 53-year-old Satik Khanbabaian walked into her gynecologist’s office, sat down calmly across her desk, and made an unusual request: “I told her, ‘Take my breasts away. Take my ovaries away.’” Her mother, Nora Nazarian, had died of breast cancer a few months earlier at the age of 71, and Satik was determined not to follow the same path.
Instead of surgery, however, Satik’s doctor wisely suggested that she first consider other prevention measures. She soon met with Ora Karp Gordon, MD, director of Genetics for the Wasserman Breast Cancer Risk Reduction Program at Cedars-Sinai, and together they came up with an aggressive prevention plan based on her health and family history (a maternal aunt had also died of advanced breast cancer). The approach included getting annual mammograms and breast MRIs, plus regular blood tests for ovarian cancer and mouth swabs that checked for cancer susceptibility genes.
Satik didn’t stop there. Keeping cancer at bay is now part of her daily routine. Never a big fan of blueberries, she added them to her diet along with scads of other fruits and vegetables. “So many berries,” she says, laughing. Then came the regular walks—two-and-a-half miles every day— around her Woodland Hills neighborhood. To reduce stress, she listens to an inspirational radio talk show and tries not to worry when her house gets a little messy. “I used to drive myself crazy about it,” she says. “Now I say, ‘I can vacuum tomorrow.’”