Editor’s note: We sat down with Anna Shen for this interview on the day that her mother, Lucy, would have celebrated her 53rd birthday. Lucy died of pancreatic cancer in 2016.
My mom was a go-with-the-flow, free-spirited person. Warm and loving, great energy, always smiling. She was the most giving person I’ve ever met. I hope to be the kind of mother to my kids one day that she was to me and my brother, and I hope to be the kind of wife she was to my dad. They were married for 25 years!
I feel that I’m becoming more like her, the older I get. I think it’s beautiful that you become more like your parents as you age, because it means they are always with you.
You were very young when she passed away.
What are some favorite memories of her?
My mom loved to sing – loudly! She sang soprano in the church choir and hearing her sing hymns, while making us breakfast on the weekends, is one of my favorite memories. The sound of her voice is something I’ve missed the most.
Tell us about your experience as she went through the disease, and how PanCAN helped.
About a year into my mom’s illness, I went online searching for support and answers to my many questions. PanCAN came up first on Google, so I called. I got connected with PanCAN’s PanCAN Patient Services service and spoke with a case manager.
I wanted to feel more in control, more empowered – there was so much information coming our way, and I was overwhelmed emotionally. It was so great to talk to someone who could help sort out the information and manage the stress.
I called PanCAN Patient Services every time I felt overwhelmed – if Mom was getting weaker or wasn’t responding well to treatment.
I always got connected with the same person at PanCAN Patient Services, which I learned was intentional. I loved that my case manager always knew my story, and I didn’t have to start over. She told me about clinical trials, immunotherapy, Know Your Tumor® – other treatment options we could consider.
How would you describe PanCAN?
My friend’s dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and she had a lot of questions for me. The first thing I said was, “Please reach out to PanCAN. Here’s the number. Call them. They will tell you everything you need to know.”
PanCAN focuses on many areas, but I want people to know about the support piece. PanCAN made me feel that I was in control and had power, and for that I am forever grateful.
Talk about volunteering with PanCAN and your family’s support of the cause.
I volunteered with PanCAN’s Silicon Valley Affiliate when I graduated from college, and then more recently, my dad and I have sponsored PurpleStride Silicon Valley.
This year our foundation, The Shens Foundation, is a presenting sponsor – it’s another way to support the organization that has helped my family so much. The sense of community that I’ve gotten through PanCAN is huge to me.
Their support got me through my mom’s illness, and I know I’ll support PanCAN for the rest of my life.
PurpleStride Silicon Valley is Nov. 2. What are you most looking forward to at the event?
PurpleStride is a happy, fun, energetic event.
Pancreatic cancer is such a difficult disease, so I love that PurpleStride brings together all the people who have been impacted. There is a bond that is shared from going through something so painful together.
I have forged forever-friendships through volunteering with people like Diane.
My dad had a heart attack the third year of my mom’s illness – it was the lowest point for me, the idea of losing two parents at the same time. Diane has always been there through my family’s struggles.
How are you and your family doing today, going on four years since your mom died?
The first year was the hardest. My brother, dad and I all processed it a little differently. It took a couple years to feel like myself again. I felt numb – no intense happiness or sadness, more just going through the motions.
But I’ve gone from not understanding why my mom died, and being mad about it, to being grateful that I was able to spend 23 years with this incredible person.
The last question is for your dad. James, please describe how you feel about Anna’s involvement in the cause.
I’m very proud of Anna. She has turned her loss and pain into something positive to help others who are impacted by pancreatic cancer.
My wife was the sunshine in our lives. Anna is carrying on that energy and spirit.