Bershan Shaw on Traveling After Stage 4 Breast Cancer Diagnosis: 'Africa Saved My Life'

Told she had just three months to live, the motivational speaker and reality TV personality set off on a safari. Here's why — and how she thinks travel saved her.

A portrait of Bershan Shaw
Photo: Courtesy of Jackie Hicks

Bershan Shaw, a recent addition to the Real Housewives franchise, is the type of person you want around when you get bad news. She simply refuses to take it at face value.

In her early 30s, Shaw received the news that she had stage four breast cancer and was given just three months to live. At that moment, she decided to take a figurative journey into herself and a literal one around the globe to gain a fresh perspective and a new lease on life, no matter how long she had.

"I started thinking I'm not going to die. I'm going to talk about this. I'm going to journal about this. I'm going to talk to people about this, because you are what you think you are and what you believe," Shaw told Travel + Leisure. "So, I started to do the work of personal development, self-improvement motivation, and all of that stuff to change my life around."

Believing she had very little time to accomplish the things she dreamed of, Shaw decided she was going to live each and every day she had left exactly in the way she wanted to.

"I wanted to travel and explore and get to know who I am, get to know other cultures, learn, and grow," she said, noting that travel has always been an important part of her life since her childhood trips around the world with her parents. "Traveling," she said, "just opens your mind. It helps you explore different things, different cultures, different foods, different people."

After her diagnosis, Shaw went on an African safari, traveling through Namibia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Senegal, Ghana, and Ethiopia.

She credits this trip for both helping to save her life and letting her see herself more clearly than ever before.

"It was a trip to be free. I would say, it was my freeing trip because it was my trip to learn about me," she said. "I feel like whenever you're going through hardship, any trying times, you need to ask yourself, 'what is it for?' I just think I was stuck in a rut. I was people-pleasing and I wasn't living my life to the fullest."

But, for Shaw, this single adventure changed all of that. "I always say Africa saved my life. It felt like home and it felt like it brought me back to my core of life," she added.

Following her trip, Shaw came home renewed and ready to fight. More than 10 years on from her diagnosis, Shaw continues to take the lessons she learned from her experiences to both better herself and those around her with her speaking engagements, coaching, and now a new mental health app URAWARRIOR (pronounced You Are a Warrior), to help others who may be going through their own turmoil and looking for a way out.

"It's a social networking community, no bullying, no trolling, no negativity," she said. "It's all positive."

The app also includes areas where users can listen to motivational speakers, seek one-on-one guidance, attend listening rooms to hear from others, or just quietly be a part of it all until they are ready.

"You don't have to share who you are, or you can, but it's about sharing your story and hearing other people's stories," Shaw said. "Because when you hear other people's stories and you share your story, you can heal. You're not alone. You got this."

Learn more about Shaw, her app, and where she's journeying around the world for speaking appearances here.

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