Surviving Cancer Runs in the Family
- “Real Housewives of New York City” star and motivational speaker Bershan Shaw survived breast cancer twice. It’s clear where she gets her resilience from.
- She is currently supporting her 88-year-old dad, who battled and survived three different cancers.
- Shaw, 49, was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in 2007 and diagnosed again in 2009 with stage 4 breast cancer. She prioritizes her mental health to stay positive and healthy.
- Anecdotal evidence from SurvivorNet experts points to how a positive mindset can help people deal with a health challenge.
- Dr. Murrell explains that patients with gratitude tend to handle treatment better because this attitude is one way to stay mentally healthy.
“We are survivors. Thank you everyone for the prayers…My dad is back up and back in business,” Shaw wrote in a warm Instagram post honoring her dad, Jerro Shaw.Read More
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“He is a stage 4 prostate cancer thriver and I’m a stage 4 breast cancer thriver. We beat this thing. Here is my dad he had a cardiac arrest and they told me to pull the plug on my dad, but I didn’t. They said he wouldn’t wake up and he would be a vegetable, but he wasn’t,” Bershan wrote in her post.
Bershan said in a 2021 podcast, her dad was also diagnosed with lung and brain cancers and beat all of his diseases.
“He always told me, ‘Never give up and never give in,’” she said.
As Shaw continues keeping a watchful eye on her resilient dad, she’s also keeping her mental well-being top of mind.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and the reality TV star has made it a priority.
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“One in five people deal with #mentalhealth so whether it’s a celebrity, a soccer mom, a teacher, or a businessman and women. People are dealing with life’s trauma, and we want to have a safe space to talk about it. We must remove the stigma around mental health,” Shaw said in a post.
While Shaw is widely known for appearing on the “Real Housewives of New York City” reality TV show, she is also a motivational speaker, business coach, and author of “The Unstoppable Warrior Woman.”
In the spirit of mental health awareness month, Shaw’s focus on positive mental health is a useful tool many cancer warriors can adopt for their own journeys.
Shaw’s Breast Cancer Battles
Shaw has overcome breast cancer twice. She was first diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in 2007.
Stage 1 breast cancers are relatively small; they either have not spread to the lymph nodes or only a small area of cancer has spread to the sentinel lymph node.
“I felt a lump and immediately just jumped up,” Shaw told WTVR news.
She underwent breast cancer treatment with a lumpectomy, which removes the cancer and an area of healthy tissue around it. She also received radiation therapy, which uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells.
Two years later in 2009, after going to the doctor for back pain, doctors discovered her cancer had returned, and this time it was stage 4 breast cancer.
Stage 4 or metastatic breast cancer is the hardest type of cancer to treat because, at this late stage, the cancer has spread beyond the breast to other parts of the body. She was in her early 30s at the time and the “Real Housewives” star told Travel and Leisure magazine that doctors said she had “just three months to live.”
Despite the stress Shaw felt while coping with her cancer diagnosis, she focused on maintaining a positive mindset which helped her mental health.
“When they told me it was terminal, incurable breast cancer, at first you go through shock, disappointment, anger. But then I just got on my knees, and I say, ‘God, just give me every day of glory. Give me every day to do something better,” she explained to Parade, a pop culture and lifestyle media outlet.
“I am healthy. I am happy. I’m loving. I’m powerful. I’m strong. And every day, I get better,” Shaw said to herself daily. Her positive affirmations helped her through tough rounds of chemotherapy and radiation.
Shaw told Huffington Post her cancer has been in remission since treatment.
WATCH: Treating late-stage breast cancer.
The Impact Positive Mental Health Can Have on the Cancer Journey
Your mindset going into a cancer journey can make a huge difference says psychologist Dr. Charmain Jackman.
“In the face of a life-threatening diagnosis, fear, hopelessness, and despair can quickly take space in your mind. However, your mindset is a superpower,” Dr. Jackman tells SurvivorNet.
“Your mindset can be a potent antidote to illness. Practicing gratitude, cultivating joy, and connecting to the community are practical ways to develop a resilient mindset,” Dr. Jackman continued.
Anecdotal evidence from SurvivorNet experts points to how a positive mindset can help people deal with a health challenge.
Dr. Zuri Murrell of Cedars-Sinai tells SurvivorNet in an earlier interview, “My patients who thrive, even with stage 4 cancer, from the time that they, about a month after they’re diagnosed, I kind of am pretty good at seeing who is going to be OK. Now doesn’t that mean I’m good at saying that the cancer won’t grow,” he says.
“But I’m pretty good at telling what kind of patients are going to still have this attitude and probably going to live the longest, even with a bad, bad disease. And those are patients who, they have gratitude in life.”
Dr. Murrell explains that patients with gratitude tend to handle treatment better because this attitude is one way to stay mentally healthy.
One reason this phenomenon is often reported anecdotally could be due to the reduction in stress levels. Stress and anxiety can lead to physical issues, and practicing gratitude can help get both under control.
Practicing Positive Mental Wellness
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
If you’re struggling with your emotions during a cancer journey, here are some questions you may consider asking your doctor:
- What type of treatment should I seek if I’m struggling with negative thoughts?
- Are there any local support groups for people in my situation?
- How might struggling with mental health affect my treatment?
- Should I consider medical interventions such as antidepressants?
Learn more about SurvivorNet's rigorous medical review process.