A Fierce Inspiration
- Business coach and motivational speaker Bershan Shaw is a one-woman powerhouse who will be be appearing on The Real Housewives of New York City this season.
- Shaw tells SurvivorNet where her unlimited supply of infectious energy comes from: She was told after her stage 4 cancer diagnosis in 2009 that she had three months to live.
- Genetic testing is important. Women who carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer. Family history is also a factor. Shaw’s mother died of breast cancer, but Shaw did not have a gene mutation.
The 47-year-old is a stage 4 breast cancer survivor, and she couldn’t be happier to use her newest platform on The Real Housewives of New York City to bring out the warrior in more women out there.Read More
“I’ve been speaking for 10 years plus. I mean, literally I’ve traveled all over the world to speak. India, Africa, London, Paris, Australia,” she tells SurvivorNet. “My drive came from my story, believe it or not. My story of being a warrior, of getting stage 4 breast cancer and them telling me I have three months to live.”
Shaw says she used her inner strength to power through.
“I used to hide and try to make it seem like everything was okay in my life. But it wasn’t,” she admits. Now Shaw is not afraid to share her story, urging people to “speak up, stop being afraid, stop hiding in your life.”
Shaw is also breaking barriers as one of the first Black cast members on RHONY in addition to new housewife Eboni K. Williams. The show premieres May 4 on Bravo.
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“I really am happy with Bravo for stepping up to the plate in bringing diversity,” she tells SurvivorNet. “Truly, I think [producer] Andy Cohen is a genius. He started a new culture. All of this is exciting, it’s getting my message out there: Helping women, supporting women, uplifting women. That’s my jam.”
Overall, Shaw reports a good experience with the other cast members. “The women were interesting and fun and complex,” she says. “Yes, we had our differences but in the end we pushed through to the other side, and we are friends.”
A Renaissance Woman
In addition to motivational speaking and gracing the stage with Tony Robbins, Shaw has a podcast Buckle Up with Bershan, and she’s also working on a mental and emotional wellness app called UR A Warrior, which will be out later this year.
The Washington D.C. native even owned a restaurant in New York City when she was 29 years old. “It was called Haven. It was Mediterranean tapas.” Shaw loves Greece and her mother Bernice—who died from breast cancer in 1997—was a big international traveler who would bring her daughter along.
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“My mom was a fighter. She was a go getter. She took action,” Shaw says. “She was about living and that’s what I’m about. I screen write too. I write movies. I do interior design. I’m living my best life.”
A Daddy’s Girl
Despite the title of the Real Housewives, you don’t have to be married to make the cut. Shaw, an independent career woman, is single. Well, she does have one special man in her life; her dad.
“Yeah, so my dad is the love of my life because he’s 86 and thinks he’s 26. You know, I get everything from him. We’re both go-getters,” she says, expressing how close the “daddy’s girl” is with her pops. “He’s hip. He’s young. He doesn’t want help. He drives. He walks.”
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From Stage 1 to Stage 4, and a Misdiagnosis
Shaw was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in 2007, with no lymph node involvement. She had a lumpectomy followed by standard radiation; everything was taken care of like clockwork.
And then the cancer came back two years later as stage 4.
“It really came like a vengeance… like I couldn’t even bend down,” she described of her debilitating experience. “I was so scared, and I went to every doctor, chiropractors… I took MRIs. Everyone thought it was a slipped disc. Finally, my doctor sat me down and said, ‘You have terminal breast cancer.'”
She had gone from doctor to doctor for nearly six months. “‘Oh, it’s nothing. It’s probably a slipped disc,'” they had said. No one was believing that it could be cancer. But that’s why I was an advocate for my health. I kept going and kept going.”
“I definitely take control of my health. I realize that if you don’t, who will? Doctors aren’t going to stay on top of you. I told myself, “Get busy living or get busy dying.”
The cancer was in her L4-L5, which is at the base of the spine. Shaw had ER-positive breast cancer, which means the cancer cells are estrogen-fueled. “It spread quick. And when it has spread, that means it’s in your lymph nodes. It’s in your glands. That’s not a good thing,” she says.
Although Shaw’s mother died from breast cancer, Shaw does not have BRCA1 or BRCA2, the genetic mutation that puts you at a higher risk for the disease. She doesn’t know what type her mother had. “Back then, they’re like, ‘Oh, I don’t know. I’m not sure, you have to ask my doctor.’ But now we know, we’re obsessive. We know every detail.”
Then the cancer slayer joyfully learned that she was in remission after initially being told she had three months to live. Even though many people in the cancer world do not use the words “cancer-free,” especially with a stage 4 diagnosis, Shaw believes it helps with her mental strength.
“I use cancer-free because I think it’s a mindset too,” she says. “I believe you are what you think and you are what you believe. Cancer was my diagnosis, not my prognosis. You know, cancer is the disease. And so, I’ve risen above it. I rise above cancer,” she says.
To treat her stage 4 cancer, Shaw went through intense chemotherapy, radiation and has been on the drug letrozole (Femara), which is hormone therapy to manage the disease. It works by decreasing the amount of estrogen produced by the body, which can slow or stop the growth of some types of breast cancer cells that need estrogen to grow.
Overall, her symptoms were manageable from her treatment, which she credits to juicing and exercising. “I just kept saying, ‘I am not going to let this get me down.’ My doctor said, ‘Look, you survived, you did something right. Many people die from stage 4.’ I had a method. I do affirmations every morning. I prayed. I write in my journals. I manifest and I exercise.”
Celebrating Life While Helping Others
And Shaw continues to celebrate. “Look, I’m celebrating every year I call it ‘cancerversary,’ March 26. I celebrate every year. Live it up, champagne, going out to dinner with my friends and family. Because what this made me realize is that life is too short to sweat the small stuff,” she says.
Shaw’s advice for women living with cancer is three-fold. “My three things. I think you have to change your mindset. If you think you’re going to die, you’re going to die. Stop with that thinking and start living right,” she says. “Take control, meaning, start changing your diet. Exercise is so important. Affirmation, manifestation, happy things, writing in your journal. I always say you are what you think. So change your thoughts.”
Shaw even gives free 15-minute motivational sessions to cancer patients, which can be booked on her website, to help people practice positivity.
“Don’t let the gremlins get in your head,” she says.
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A Family History of Breast Cancer
Genetic testing is key in determining whether you carry a genetic mutation called BRCA1 or BRCA2 that increases your risk of getting breast cancer. While Shaw is negative for the mutation, her mother Bernice died from breast cancer, which still made her daughter’s risk high.
More women are taking steps to prevent ever hearing the words, “You have breast cancer,” and in Shaw’s case, hearing it twice.
Dr. Freya Schnabel, director of breast surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center, tells SurvivorNet about the options for women with a higher risk of breast cancer. “When I meet with women who are at an increased risk for breast cancer because of BRCA mutations, I like to talk about the three options that they have for managing their risk,” she says. Those options are:
- Intensive surveillance: This means keeping an eye on your health, in an attempt to catch disease early if it does present itself.
- Medication: There are certain drugs available to lower the risk of developing breast cancer. But as with any medical treatment, risks and benefits must be considered.
- Surgery: This is the option that will lower a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer as much as possible. It involves removing as much breast tissue as possible, while attempting to preserve the nipple area, should a woman opt for reconstruction.