Title: Director of Breast Surgery, White Plains Hospital Cancer Center
Hospital: White Plains Hospital
It’s rare for busy mothers to make time for manicures, let alone mammograms. But at age 35, Sonal Gibson had a gut feeling that she should book one, even though her insurance wouldn’t cover it for another five years. She ignored the urge for a year, then the screening confirmed her worst fears.
Reeling from her diagnosis of breast cancer, Gibson — the mother of two children, 5 and 3 — tried to keep a clear head while researching her options. She knew that traveling from Purchase to New York City for treatment would add undue stress to her busy life.
Instead, Gibson went to White Plains Hospital, where she met Dr. Preya Ananthakrishnan. Together, they tackled the unexpected diagnosis and resolved to make a plan. “Sonal is young, healthy, ate organic home-cooked food, exercised regularly, saw her doctors regularly, and did everything right — yet still got breast cancer,” Ananthakrishnan says. “Meeting her drove home the point that breast cancer can affect anyone, regardless of age, family history, or lifestyle.”
Still, she was quick to reassure Gibson. “There is such a sense of optimism in this field,” says Ananthakrishnan. “Breast cancer survival rates are better than ever, and it has really become a treatable and curable disease. And we were able to confirm that she had a favorable type of breast cancer, diagnosed at an early stage.” With this spark of hope, the women forged a bond, one of the “deep and meaningful, lifelong relationships” that Ananthakrishnan witnessed in medical school between breast surgeons and patients.
“We get to know these women from the day they are diagnosed — often the worst day of their lives — throughout their treatment and then for years afterwards,” she says. “We are proud to provide innovative services right in Westchester County.” Ananthakrishnan discussed with Gibson her approach of precision medicine, including genetic testing that customizes treatment, and laid out an integrated-care plan involving surgery, systemic treatment, radiation, and access to clinical trials. But the women also discussed how to manage stress, eat healthy meals, and juggle cancer care with work obligations, and family life.
“I learn as much from my patients as they learn from me.”
“As women, we often all share similar concerns and have to face similar obstacles,” she says. “I learn as much from my patients as they learn from me.” Gibson agrees. “She was able to treat me as a patient, not a number.”
As a surgeon, Ananthakrishnan takes pride in having “good hands and big ears.” Her surgical procedures include nipple-sparing mastectomies and breast conservation, both “oncoplastic” techniques that remove cancerous cells and tumors while striving to preserve aesthetics and function. But just as important, she says, she listens to patients as much as possible.
“I ask questions to better understand their goals of treatment and to guide them in treating their cancer in a way that aligns with their priorities. At a time when you feel life is out of control, our joint decision-making can restore a sense of power over the process.”
Ananthakrishnan also embraces a holistic approach to cancer care — with teams of specialists, social workers, patient navigators, and even providers of acupuncture, reiki, and massage. “Our whole team provides the patient with love and support.” And grateful patients, like Gibson, return the favor. “Sonal’s personality is a ray of sunshine, and it was such a pleasure to watch her return to normal life,” says Ananthakrishnan. “She continues to thrive with her healthy diet and lifestyle and spoils my office staff by bringing healthy treats at each visit.”