Cancer Doesn't Care Where You Come from; and So Shahla Masood, Who Left Iran and Settled in the U.S., Fights It in Both Countries

By Black, Cherie | The Florida Times Union, April 3, 2006 | Go to article overview

Cancer Doesn't Care Where You Come from; and So Shahla Masood, Who Left Iran and Settled in the U.S., Fights It in Both Countries


Black, Cherie, The Florida Times Union


Byline: CHERIE BLACK

When Shahla Masood fled Iran in 1982, it was with a vow she'd never return to a dangerous country that had abandoned her and her family.

When she returned a quarter-century later, it was with a sense she couldn't abandon a calling to use her valued medical knowledge to help her countrymen.

Along the way, she regained her sense of connection to her homeland, a newfound energy she plans to use in Iran -- and in Jacksonville, where she continues to battle a lingering sense of isolation.

Masood, a world-renowned breast cancer expert and chief of pathology at Shands Jacksonville, arrived home last month from the first-ever global breast cancer conference in Tehran. While there she found gleaming high-rises, advanced medical facilities, women in leadership positions and a medical community that gave her the "royal treatment."

"My memories [of earlier life in Iran] were wiped out," the 59-year-old said, tears in her eyes. "Everything has changed ... I molded very quickly back. I felt at home. It surprised me."

Surprising, because as the Iran-Iraq War decimated her country in the early '80s and put her family and friends' lives in jeopardy, it was with a sense of urgency that she and her husband, urologist Ahmad Kasraeian, fled their home. They left behind the 80-bed hospital they had built together and a lucrative and privileged life.

After living briefly in the United Arab Emirates, Masood relocated to Jacksonville in 1984 because she had trained here as a medical student. She's since won numerous awards for her breast cancer research, is heavily involved in studying minimally invasive procedures and speaks frequently at national and international symposiums. She is also founder and editor in chief of The Breast Journal, the official publication of three prestigious breast and pathology societies.

Her colleagues say she is complex, much like a puzzle, and doesn't readily open herself up for people to know. Karen Earwick administrative manager for pathology at Shands who has worked with Masood for 12 years, said she was intimidated the first time she met her. It took a couple of years to get inside and know who she was, she said.

Her work, Earwick said, is unmatched.

"She's had many opportunities to go to other institutions for a higher title, but she stays and keeps her programs accessible to those who need them."

Patients call her a savior.

Renay Daigle was pregnant three years ago when diagnosed with breast cancer. A friend recommended Masood, who offered her phone number and access anytime Daigle needed it. Daigle underwent a mastectomy before she gave birth and chemotherapy and radiation after her daughter was born.

"I went into the surgery much more comfortable with my decision," Daigle said. "As a pathologist she gave me options."

Despite her personal and professional achievements, Masood says her commitment to Jacksonville hasn't always been received with open arms. Leadership positions on projects for the many boards on which she sits haven't been forthcoming. Dinner invitations to her Mandarin home haven't been reciprocated. Her ideas and passions in the medical community haven't been recognized.

Once, while volunteering as a cook at the I.M. Sulzbacher Center for the Homeless, where she's a founding board member, someone asked her why she cared about the city's homeless when she wasn't even an American. …

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