Queens radiologist shares experience as survivor

By Madina Toure

Although radiologist Sabiha Raoof, 50, screens her patients at Jamaica and Flushing hospitals for breast cancer, none of that experience could prepare her for discovering, just before her 41st birthday, that she had the cancer herself.

“As a patient, it was a very different experience,” said Raoof, chairwoman of radiology at the two hospitals.

Now cancer-free for the past nine years, the Long Island resident, who once lived in Jamaica Estates, said she was lucky compared to other patients because she had support from her husband, a physician specializing in pulmonary and critical care at Lenox Hill Hospital, as well as her 25-year-old daughter and her 22-year-old son. She also had support from her colleagues.

“In this day and age, the moment they found out I had breast cancer, they went on the Internet and they started reading,” Raoof said.

She added, “My husband is a physician and has dealt with all kinds of cancers all his life, but it’s a different story when it hits you. It was not easy, but thank God we had the best treatment available to us.”

Raoof conducted a self-breast exam and found out that she had the cancer. She had a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction surgery in August 2006 at the age of 41 and started chemotherapy in September 2006 for eight months.

Despite leading a healthy lifestyle and not drinking, smoking or having a family history of breast cancer, she still had the disease.

In 2009, the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommended that women get routine yearly screening before the age of 50.

“If I went by not screening myself at age 40, God knows when I would have found the cancer,” she said.

Raoof has been steadfast in encouraging individuals to seek treatment and get screened.

The MediSys Health Network, of which the two hospitals are part, hired one Chinese-speaking breast navigator and a Korean-speaking navigator for Flushing Hospital who went to temples, shopping malls, churches and other institutions to speak with women.

“They understood their culture, they understood their hesitations about talking about this,” she said.

The program was funded through one-year grants from the nonprofit Susan G. Komen for the Cure from 2008 to 2012. It was $50,000 for three years and $100,000 for the last year.

During the grant years, the hospital did 2,070 mammograms for Flushing patients and provided education to 8,783 women about the importance of screening.

There have been 5,000 to 5,500 screening studies per year at Jamaica Hospital and about 1,200 to 1,300 at Flushing Hospital.

In 2012, Raoof initiated a program in which top-level hospital executives, department chairmen and administrators checked on patients on each floor.

“We really are doing our best to see how we can reach out, educate our patients and raise awareness for not just breast cancer screening but all cancer screening and do our best to keep our population healthy,” Raoof said.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.