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Pillar of Strength: Medical Contributor to CTV’s Canada AM Dr. Marla Shapiro opens up about life, loss and never looking back

Doctor, broadcaster, author, mother, survivor Marla Shapiro opens up about life, loss – and cramming “the clowns into the tiny car” that is modern life.

By: MICHELLE SINGERMAN


Dr. Marla Shapiro sits at a plush kitchen table at the heart of her polished but comfortable home, poised and ready for our chat.

The hallways  above echo with her sons’ adolescent after-school banter, and an oversized bowl of coffee pucks next to a one-cup coffee brewer tucked into a  counter corner scream it loud: the milieu of the bustling working mother.

But this isn’t your average hockey mom. A noteworthy professional as  much as she is a very real, honest and funny woman, Canada’s Dr. Marla admits it’s hard to establish that work-life harmony. She jokes about  cramming all those clowns into one tiny car, laughing: “It turns out my insomnia works for me.”

Medical contributor to CTV’s Canada AM and medical consultant for CTV News, Shapiro is only half kidding. Sure, she’s garnered her share of awards and titles over a 30-year history in the medical field. But besides her successful private practice, she has also worked as an editor, author, columnist, associate professor, host,  spokesperson – the list goes on. Through it all she has achieved balance, maintaining her dedicated role as wife and mother of three.

But she also sees how young women today approach their professional lives differently than her own generation did. “I think the difference now with  graduating young women and professionals and physicians… is that they are far more aware of life balance than I ever was.”

Shapiro is open to discussing how the success evident in her Toronto home has been tempered by hardship.

In 1993, she and her husband lost their child to sudden infant death syndrome. This had remained private until 2000, when Shapiro became a spokesperson for the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Risk  Reduction Campaign.

“It was one of those moments where I realized that I had the opportunity to act as opposed to react,” she says, citing a  now-conscious approach of hers. “As opposed to being overwhelmingly grief-stricken when Jason died and not knowing what to do with that, here it was seven years later and I had the opportunity to decide what I was going to do about it.”

Touring the country, she met parents whose worlds crumbled as a result of SIDS and she became attuned to the power of impacting lives on a mass scale.

“You walk that walk a thousand times as you find your child not breathing. You know, you live all of that in your head, but that was a defining moment for me.”

The experience led to her role  on CTV, which enables her to reach a national audience and fulfill her personal mantra: knowledge, translation and education.

Some years later,  Shapiro was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent chemotherapy. After weighing subsequent treatment options against her risk factors, the then 40-something chose to undergo a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.

“I made a decision that was right for me,” she says defiantly. “And I don’t look back. And I have not looked back. And I think that is how you have to make the decision.”

When first embarking on her yearlong battle with cancer, she triumphantly claimed the disease would not define, but rather refine her. She chuckles to herself, admitting the statement was premature.

“It’s naïve to think that any life experience is not going to change you. Of course it changes you,” she says. “That’s what happens to us in life. So to think that it somehow wasn’t going to impact me was pretty ridiculous.”

Shapiro came out of her experience with a  “revised life view.” One incident in particular propelled her to reflect on life from a different angle. In Run Your Own Race, a documentary following her battle with the disease, Shapiro’s eldest admits that cancer was the best thing to happen to their relationship.

“That was an incredible moment for me, recognizing that it’s not enough to have that so-called quality time that we delude ourselves with,” she affirms. “And thankfully there was still time for me to really take a good hard look at the decisions I make and how I live my life.”

The woman who always had a five-year plan and a “mile-long to-do list” is now content with a different type of list. This one includes patiently awaiting grandchildren, watching her children find their way into adulthood and continuing to be a committed mom.

Embracing her age and the years to come, this is one woman not resentful of the process.

“It is what it is,” she says. “You know, I’m about to be 55. And that amazes me, like, wow, how did I get here? And then I stop for a minute and I think, thank God I got here.”