Pheodora Shin, a physician diagnosed at age 45, supports research so her children won’t follow in her footsteps.
When Pheodora Shin was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was shocked. While the disease was not foreign to her—both her mother and aunt had been diagnosed—as a physician, she was not ready to assume the role as the patient.
“I thought it would happen someday given my family history,” she said about her diagnosis. “But not at the age of 45. Not with three young children.”
Her community rallied around her. From walking the family dog to taking carpool duty and cooking meals, friends and family were there. But accepting the help did not come naturally to her.
“I always prided myself on being able to ‘do it all,’” Pheodora said. “But in the end, I greatly appreciated all the love, positive energy and support that emanated from every gesture of kindness.”
Sometimes these moments came from those closest to her.
“A week after I shaved my head, my seven-year-old twin boys asked to go to the barber to shave theirs,” she said.
At her daughter’s school, while she was in treatment, the librarian approached her.
“She said to me, ‘You look great, you're doing great!’ I kind of looked at her and asked, ‘What do you mean?’ And she pulled aside her blouse to show me her scar. She was a 15-year survivor. And she told me I would be there too someday.”
Today Pheodora is living that reality. She is in remission—but her memories remain fresh.
“My cancer experience will always be a part of me. I have learned to live with this ‘monkey on my back.’ I try to make peace with it by living life to its fullest.”
Her daughter, Grace, has helped her embrace this new normal. For a school project, her then 12-year-old daughter was asked to write an essay about the most influential person in her life, and she chose her mom.
“I was totally flattered,” Pheodora said. “But then Grace turned to me and said, ‘But Mom, I don't want to be you. I don’t want to have cancer.’”
At the time Pheodora did not know what to say. It was several years later, when her husband—a molecular biologist—stumbled upon BCRF’s website. The couple was moved by its mission and have since attended several Hot Pink Parties in New York to raise money for research.
“It's my hope that when my daughter grows up, she won’t have to face the decisions that so many women have to make when they are given a breast cancer diagnosis,” Pheodora said.
“Maybe there won’t even be breast cancer.”