Newlywed couple navigates cancer together

Sanford doctor, wife each encouraged the other to seek treatment

A Sanford Health doctor and his wife smile while sitting outdoors on a fall day.

When Shauna Erickson-Abou Zahr met Sanford physician Abdallah Abou Zahr on an online dating app in late 2019, their first date was like something out of a romantic comedy.

“He legit rolled in with his physician badge on, like disheveled, right out of the hospital. I’m like, ‘What am I getting myself into here?’” said Erickson-Abou Zahr with a smile. “He’s asking me if the (small glass of) beer was going to make it so he couldn’t drive himself home. Just some really sweet and charming things that were very different than the people I dated in the past.”

Shauna’s cancer story

The two hit it off quickly, and by the following summer, were engaged to be married. But their fairy-tale romance was headed for a frightening turn.

“It was really exciting planning a wedding for me and planning a home remodel and talking about, you know, what our debut into potential parenthood might look like, all for that to very much kind of halt in February when Abdallah was laying with me one Sunday morning and just said, ‘What is this in (your) breast?’ And I like had kind of a jump-out-of-your-skin moment.”

Erickson-Abou Zahr was diagnosed with breast cancer in March of 2020 just a few months prior to their planned wedding. She was devastated.

“I’m 32 years old. I can’t have cancer. This is supposed to be the happiest year of my life,” she said.

New perspective

The couple had a new perspective. And Erickson-Abou Zahr decided to change their wedding plans.

“It was kind of a moment of clarity for me. I just said to myself, ‘What are you waiting for? This is what you want in your life.’ Like for better, for worse, in sickness and in health, I want to be with Abdallah,” said Erickson-Abou Zahr.

“I was at work and she wanted to call me,” said Dr. Abou Zahr, a hematologist and oncologist at Sanford Fargo. “She (asked), ‘Would you marry me at my bridal shower?’ I told her that’s the easiest ‘yes’ there is. So I said, yes, and she and her sister and a close friend did all the planning.”

The two were married at Erickson-Abou Zahr’s bridal shower, a surprise to most of the attendees. It turned a difficult situation into a happy memory. The two were now married and headed for their honeymoon where, unthinkably, more bad news struck.

Abdallah’s cancer story

“We were on our honeymoon and I told him, ‘I’m sick of telling you to get this lump looked at,’” said Erickson-Abou Zahr. “So we’re sitting in our bungalow in Florida and he calls and makes an appointment. We had that biopsy done in June and probably found out in early July that he in fact did have cancer.”

Dr. Abou Zahr was diagnosed with soft-tissue sarcoma in his leg.

“The statistical odds don’t play in our direction at all, because what are the chances of both going through this in the same year, in the year of our marriage?” said Dr. Abou Zahr. “We’re looking for no more bad surprises.”

The couple is now, incredibly, fighting cancer together. But they are doing their best to see the positives in their uncommon situation.

“I think there was something very sacred about knowing what it was like to be a cancer patient, side-by-side with one another, that I don’t think many people in the world have the unfortunate chance to have to do together,” said Erickson-Abou Zahr. “At the end of the day, we both saved each other’s lives. Abdallah would push me over if I said fate, but there was something very timely about him and I coming into each other’s lives.”

Their first year of marriage has been extraordinary, but full of love and support. As they fight together through sickness, Abdallah and Shauna Erickson-Abou Zahr look forward to a future with good health. And hope to find their own way to “happily ever after.”

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Posted In Cancer, Cancer Screenings, Cancer Treatments