Christi Shaw was U.S. president of the pharmaceutical giant Novartis when she stunned the business world by walking away from it all.
She did it to care for her older sister, Sherry Whitford, who was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer more than two years ago. Whitford was facing a potentially bleak diagnosis but had been admitted into a clinical trial. With the trial located far from her St. Louis home, Whitford would need full-time care. Shaw decided to be there.
“I still feel very comfortable as I did the day I made the decision,” Shaw, 49, told ABC News.
The middle child of three sisters and married with one child of her own, Shaw, who lives in New Jersey, said she and Whitford, 51, have “been in this journey together” since the diagnosis.
The decision she announced publicly in April put Shaw’s nearly 30-year career on pause, but she said leaving her role at the billion-dollar corporation “wasn’t a difficult decision.”
She explained that Whitford had taken eight weeks to care for their mother when she had breast cancer.
“This decision was a logical step from a family perspective,” Shaw said. “I actually feel very lucky that I’m able to take this time."
"Many times we go through life and we just keep doing what we were doing because that’s what we’ve always done,” she said.
Shaw recognizes she has resources that many others don’t. Financially she can afford to take time off and has a strong network within the medical community.
Shaw and Whitford plan to create a foundation to help families in similar situations who don’t have the financial resources to take time off from work or travel and stay in another city for a clinical trial.
Shaw acknowledged that she wasn’t good at “sitting still,” and it has taken some time for her to adjust. She said she constantly checks email while she waits “an hour-and-a-half” for a doctor’s appointment.
While her future career track is in question, Shaw said caring for her sister is leaving a lasting impression.
Though she had “a great career,” she said, “If I look back, the place I need to be right now is with my sister.”
Her sister feels like she hit the family jackpot, too.
“I’m just very, very lucky to have you as a sister in my life,” Whitford said to Shaw.
“Ditto,” Shaw replied.