Actress Shares Why "Life Is Precious"

Cancer hit close to home for The Neighbors actress Toks Olagundoye. Here, she shares her story.

Linda Childers
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Actress Toks Olagundoye, star of ABC's hit sitcom The Neighbors, was recently asked what she'd want if she could have one wish granted. She didn't hesitate to answer: "a cure for cancer." Having watched many loved ones battle the disease, she's a passionate advocate for both prevention and a cure.

Toks, 37, who has a Nigerian father and a Norwegian mother, still remembers the shock she felt after learning her mom had been diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. It was 2009, and a suspicious spot on her mom's hand turned out to be cancerous. "When my mom got sick, it made me realize how precious life is," says Toks.

Unfortunately, it wasn't the first time a family member battled cancer. Toks was just 12 when one of her aunts was diagnosed with cervical cancer and the grandfather she was closest to developed stomach cancer. Both passed away. "They were very important to me, and seeing them become ill was devastating," says Toks. Her other grandfather was diagnosed with prostate cancer and later died. Her mom was treated for two more melanomas, and an aunt underwent treatment for breast cancer. "One of the most important lessons I've learned from watching loved ones battle cancer is to make time for the joy in your life," Toks says. "Spend time with those you love."

Recently, Toks' Springer Spaniel, Lucas, was diagnosed with leukemia. "Lucas underwent chemo, radiation and surgery, but the cancer was too advanced," recalls Toks. After the dog died, Toks participated in the American Cancer Society's Bark for Life walk, which raises money for cancer research. "I felt so helpless watching Lucas and my family members battle cancer," she says. "Doing the fund-raising walk gave me the opportunity to do something positive."

Toks also uses social media to show her support for cancer research. Last fall she tweeted, "October isn't just pumpkins & candy! It's Breast Cancer Awareness month. So, remember to check your boobies!" 

To reduce her own risk of cancer, Toks has made the following lifestyle changes:

Find a favorite workout. 
Toks recently started running two miles five days a week. "I have more energy, and I'm stronger and more flexible." 
How it can help prevent cancer: One-third of cancer deaths in the U.S. are linked to a poor diet, inactivity and being overweight or obese, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Kick the habit.
"After my mom was diagnosed with melanoma, I quit smoking," says Toks. 
How it can help prevent cancer: Smoking is responsible for at least 30% of all cancer deaths, according to the ACS.

Focus on fish. 
Toks swears by a preservative-free pescaterian diet (a vegetarian diet that includes fish and shellfish). "I eat a lot of salmon, herring and haddock and anchovies in salads," says Toks.
How it can help prevent cancer: In a study of more than 34,000 women, omega-3 fatty acids found in fish slowed the growth of colon cancers.

Photograph by Jeff Gottlieb

April 2013