Dr. I Benjamin Paz
Advocating for a Healthy Lifestyle
Story By: Charles A. Coulombe
Dr. I. Benjamin Paz is a City of Hope surgical oncologist, specializing in breast, gastrointestinal and rectal cancers, and bone and soft tissue tumors. He specializes in minimally invasive surgery and has developed one of the leading centers for minimally invasive surgery in oncology in California. He received his medical degree in Chile and received further training at the University of Arizona.
He has also served as vice chair of City of Hope’s Department of Surgery, where he has helped to expand their program dramatically and develop a number of patient-focused, multidisciplinary clinics.
Dr. Paz has been with City of Hope since 1990 and the City of Los Angeles reminds him of his native hometown - Santiago, Chile.
“In some ways, Santiago is similar to Los Angeles, and in others, quite different. Santiago is very large and cosmopolitan, very much like Los Angeles. Nevertheless, the United States is very ethnically and religiously diverse (unlike Chile), so in every field of work one needs to prepare to address those nuances,” he says.
Dr. Paz intended to become a bio-medical engineer, but had to attend medical school as part of the training. He fell in love with surgery. “At first I thought I’d become a neurosurgeon. But back in those days, the results of neurosurgery were not very promising. I discovered oncology and fighting cancer, and instinctively knew this was what I wanted to do with my career.”
At first, he did not plan to stay in the United States. But when looking for the right place to continue advanced studies, he discovered City of Hope. “What really impressed me was their mission – ‘There is no profit in curing the body if in the process, we destroy the soul.’ The people at City of Hope really live by that goal and abide by this philosophy. City of Hope was the first place I considered, and I knew I wanted to work here right away.”
When treating Hispanic patients, Dr. Paz says speaking the same language is easy. But there are other important factors -- such as culture and other elements -- one should consider in order to really understand the patient and make him or her feel comfortable with treatment.
It is important to consider the patient’s religious beliefs, their background and family structure, he adds.
“It is absurd to think that all ‘Hispanics’ are the same. Chileans, Mexicans, Argentines, Colombians and all the rest are quite different from each other. I can speak Spanish perfectly; but to treat my patients effectively, I also have to know where they are coming from, and who they are. Integrating this knowledge into treatment and developing a trusting patient-doctor relationship is key for successful healing.”
Advocating for a healthy lifestyle is one of Dr. Paz’s main goals, as prevention is often the key. “There are certain actions to take in order to avoid getting cancer – and fortunately, they also help against heart disease, which is the other major killer in the United States.”
Dr. Paz recommends losing weight and cutting down on carbohydrates, like tortillas, soda and sweet juices.
“Most Hispanics tend to be enablers in this area, and think it’s cute when our children eat this way. But if they are struggling with obesity when they are young, they will do so for the rest of their lives.”
Dr. Paz reiterates that walking two miles a day should be included in one’s daily exercise regime.
“Another problem is smoking. It causes several kinds of cancer, and there is no reason for it. And alcohol, which does add to cancer risks, is something to be avoided or consumed responsibly.”
Dr. Paz warns that alcohol is a key factor in car accidents, a leading cause of death in the U.S.
“Here too, culturally, we are enablers, encouraging its use. But we have to change our cultural views in these areas, if we really want to live longer.” He adds that choosing a healthy lifestyle is extremely important and essential for a fit and bright future, says Dr. Paz.
What parting words of advice does Dr. Paz have for us? “Stay healthy. If you want to enjoy your life, have fun with your kids and grandkids, share experiences with your friends and colleagues – you need to keep your health. At the end, that’s what life is all about.”