MILAN, Ohio — The quiet haven of Milan, Ohio, is the perfect place for 57-year-old Shaun Yovanov. It's serene and welcoming, yet revealing nothing of the unthinkable journey that began 13 years ago.
"My oldest son, Patrick was going to University of Cincinnati, and was diagnosed with leukemia on his 21st birthday," Shaun said.
Shaun was terrified, but he and his wife Christine forged on.
"I had a gut feeling that this isn't gonna be the end for him," Shaun told us.
It wasn't. Patrick stayed in school while getting treatment. Then, just one month later, unbelievable news.
"My wife is actually in the hospital with him just setting with him. They had an infomercial on the Cleveland Clinic channel and it was a breast cancer check and she put her finger right on a nodule," Shaun remembered.
Both Shaun's son and wife had cancer.
"She had to have a full hysterectomy on top of that. So, you know, she had it equally as bad as his three months of hard chemo," Shaun explained.
The two would battle the disease together, leaning into the silver lining.
"It's still family time. You're still together as bad as you feel. And you can still turn on a Disney channel or hang out or get something good to eat if you feel like eating that day," Shaun said.
He wasn't prepared to be a double caregiver, yet he faced it head on. However, nothing could have prepared him for what would happen next.
"I got diagnosed with renal cell kidney cancer," Shaun said.
An almost impossible coincidence: Shaun, his wife and son, all diagnosed with cancer within a year and a half. But despite what they went through, all Shaun wanted to do was help others.
Enter the 4th Angel Mentor program started by world-class figure skater, Scott Hamilton. He thought of the idea 20 years ago while going through his own battle with cancer. The program pairs up survivors with patients or caregivers.
“With them being able to listen to me and what I went through, it gives them a peace of mind that, ‘Hey, maybe everything's gonna work out just fine. It worked out fine for him. So why can't it work out that way for me?’” Shaun said.
He has been mentoring cancer patients and caregivers for the last 12 years. Many of them aren’t even in the state, like Vince Diaz, of Fresno, California.
“Quite a few years ago, my wife was battling breast cancer and I was her caregiver,” Vince said. “He calmed me down, told me what to expect and what not to expect. And, that being a caregiver was one of the most difficult positions that you could be in.”
It was more than advice. Vince was scared for his wife’s life. Shaun showed up when Vince needed it most. His calm, reassuring voice was there for him, over and over again.
“There's really no words. He's helped me so much during that time,” Vince said through tears. “The man is incredible. I can't even tell you that enough times.”
For Shaun, caring for others is just who he is.
“I've always sort of been a giver I guess,” he said, fighting back tears. “I just enjoy doing it.”
Shaun mentors about one family per year. He has no plans of stopping.
And, here’s some good news: Shaun, his wife and son, have been cancer-free for more than 10 years.
To find out more about the 4th Angel Mentoring program through Cleveland Clinic, click HERE.
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