Dr. Marla Shapiro is a well-loved Canadian physician, known for her role as a guest medical expert on various news programs, and her own television show Balance. She also shared a very private side of herself with her book "Life in the Balance: My Journey with Breast Cancer", and corresponding documentary "Run Your Own Race".
We may call her "Dr. Marla", but Jenna (26), Amanda (24) and Matt (16) also proudly call her "Mom".
From the medical to the personal, Dr. Marla recently opened up to me about her work, her family and herself.
This Mom: Let's take advantage of your medical expertise right away to get this interview started! I asked some of my readers what their burning questions for you would be, and one of the most common concerns relates to ear infections. Antibiotics or no antibiotics?
M.S.: I really do enjoy it, because I think Parents Canada is very evidence-based, it's not anecdotal. That's important for me, that information be evidence-based and it be reliable, and it speaks to our audience's needs, so that's what we try to do. We try to do it in a creative way, in an educational way, and a way that really meets what we hear from our readers in terms of what they are wanting to hear about and questions they have. I'm enjoying the "Ask Dr. Marla" page. The questions, I think, are very real-life and the type of questions that people ask all the time and it keeps me on my toes listening to our readers. I'm enjoying it quite a bit.
T.M.: As such a well-loved television personality, what do you find are some of the disadvantages of being so recognizable?
M.S.: First of all, I think that it's such a privilege to do what I do. It really is. You build, over years, relationships with your viewers and I know that because they email questions or comments, and the response when I announced I had breast cancer was just so overwhelming. I think that for the most part it's a very positive experience. When is it a negative experience? The odd time when someone doesn't know a boundary and is very intrusive.
When my kids were very little they found it frightening sometimes that strangers would approach me and that they knew my name. When the kids were young, we definitely kept them out of the spotlight. In fact, when I did the documentary I don't think we filmed Matt at all, or allowed him to be on air. One, because he was little and couldn't really make an informed decision as to if this was something he really wanted to do and definitely I was very protective of my children when they were young, keeping them out of the public eye. As my husband would remind me, this is something that I chose to do, not something that the family chose to do or something that the kids chose to do, so at the time when we did the documentary that was a family decision, not my decision alone.
Same thing with the risk reduction tour that I did across Canada for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. I had not been public about my son's death at all when he died initially. This was a family tragedy, a family event, not something that just happened to me. And it was only in 2000, seven years after Jason died, when Health Canada and the Society for the Study of Infant Death approached me to do the risk reduction tour that we made the decision as a family, as I would be telling the family's story. So it's very very different when it's personal as opposed to when it's professional.
Because you're in people's homes every day, and when we did Balance we were on in reruns forever, people feel like they know you. And they do know a lot about me: what I look like, and what my thinking is. So some people who aren't particularly good with boundaries would think that they knew more than they really do know about me, or felt that they could approach me in a way that was not quite appropriate. That's sort of when you get the downside.
M.S.: It's been so interesting. I remember people asking me, "aren't you worried about this, or what is yet to come?" and you do it stepwise. Every day you learn something new about your kids. I see that with my own young moms, worried about the sleep patterns or what they're eating, and I always tell them "By the time you think you've got this thing licked there's going to be something else that's new." It changes, and you never know what the next day's going to bring.
It's been a real joy to see who my children are as people, and to watch them unfold. They're like these flowers that bloom and it's so interesting to see how different they are, the directions they want to go in, and watching them find themselves. It has been at times terrifying, and at times really exciting. You try to sort of calm yourself in the moments of terror when you're thinking "Oh my God, why did they make that decision?" It's hard to let them go. You have to remember as a parent that you can't fight their wars, you can't solve their problems, you're just here to give them the tools so they can do it on their own.
I was just away with my son, who is now 16 years old, on Spring Break. It's so different when you're travelling and you've got little kids, and you're sort of entertaining them and now that he's 16 he's a young adult, so I was really curious about how it was going to go. Jenna is married and is a teacher and doesn't get the same Spring Break, and Amanda is in Boston, so it was just me and Matt. When I would go away with my girls it was one thing but going away with my son one-on-one was really interesting. We have some common interests, we golfed together...my middle one called during the trip and asked "what are you and mom talking about?" and he said "there's lots of things for us to talk about!" It was really entertaining to see this young man spend time with me. It was really special.
Photo: Caroline Ryan, ParentsCanada****************************
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