Omar Ishaq, M.D., grew up in a small farming town in Chipley, Florida, home to approximately 3,500 people and only two stop-lights. Dr. Ishaq still remembers touring the town’s first grocery store, a Super Walmart, when he was in the fourth grade. As one can imagine, a town with nothing more than a grocery store probably didn’t have the easiest access to health care. And, when Dr. Ishaq’s little brother was diagnosed with leukemia at the young age of five, the options for treatment in a town that small were minimal -- the only hope for survival was found many hours away. Now, 25 years later as a board certified Radiation Oncologist, Dr. Ishaq has joined Texarkana area’s only comprehensive cancer program, the W. Temple Webber Cancer Center at CHRISTUS St. Michael Health System, to provide advanced cancer care for Texarkana and its surrounding rural communities.
“I can make a difference. I chose Texarkana because no one should feel like they have to travel for hours or move away from their home to survive cancer.”
Dr. Ishaq was exceptionally smart in school. The mother of the valedictorian of his high school was given a rose and Dr. Ishaq’s mother would always assure him he was going to get her the rose. Needless to say, he didn’t disappoint his mother and even went on to be only one of eight students in the state of Florida to receive the coveted John V. Lombardi Scholarship to the University of Florida. One of six brothers and sisters in a single parent home, he and his family survived on very little means, at times threatened with destitution.
“Receiving the Lombardi scholarship changed my life,” shared Dr. Ishaq. “They took a poor kid like me and gave me an opportunity to travel abroad and learn from extremely brilliant people.”
Dr. Ishaq continued to shine and was accepted into John Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, after graduating from the University of Florida. While there, his heart to serve and mind to problem-solve led Dr. Ishaq to start a nonprofit organization which helped provide a comprehensive system of housing, education and health care for the homeless population in the Baltimore metro area.
“During an internship, I noticed individuals in poverty would come in, receive treatment and would then go right back onto the streets without the appropriate knowledge or tools to care for themselves,” Dr. Ishaq shared. “I wanted to provide these individuals the opportunity to improve their circumstances; similar to the chances I was given.”
With a passion for photography, Dr. Ishaq found himself drawn to radiology because of the imaging. However, Dr. Ishaq’s mentor in college, seeing his passion for building relationships with people, encouraged him to look into radiation oncology. It didn’t take long for Dr. Ishaq to realize this was exactly the specialty he’d been looking for.
“I fell in love with radiation oncology,” he said. “I am happiest when dealing directly with patients and being the person to help eliminate their fears. I am able to take the time to listen, provide comfort and guidance to patients through a very scary journey.”
After completing his residency with the New York University Medical Center, Dr. Ishaq felt led to travel back to his southern roots and bring even more of the latest research and advances to Texarkana.
“Here,” he said. “I can make a difference. I chose Texarkana because no one should feel like they have to travel for hours or move away from their home to survive cancer.”