‘Below Deck’ Star Captain Sandy Yawn, 57, Finally Feels 'Home' With Girlfriend Leah After Fighting Cancer And Addiction (2023)

Sandy Yawn, 57, is a kidney cancer survivor relishing in the life she’s created. And now the star of Bravo‘s “Below Deck Mediterranean” is sharing more heartwarming details about the love she shares with gospel singer Leah Shafer, 48.

Yawn is a reality star who’s overcome alcohol addiction, a battle with cancer and climbed to the top of a male-dominated industry as a super yacht captain. And her newly released book entitled Be the Calm or Be the Storm: Leadership Lessons from a Woman at the Helm shares the leadership lessons she’s learned throughout her life while also taking a deeper dive into the impact of her relationship with Shafer. The couple first went public with their relationship in May 2019, according to the Daily Mail.

“I believe God has a way of preparing you for ‘the one,'” she writes in her book. “He knew I wasn’t ready for her all those years ago. And she wasn’t ready for me. We were both being prepared for each other. God waited for us. He gave me opportunities to make different choices and be more conscious.” She then goes on to explain that the couple’s first interaction came in the form of a Facebook message from Shafer in June 2018. “Leah, the woman who would later become my life partner, had just caught that first season of Below Deck Mediterranean and sent me these simple words: ‘Congrats on the show. Many blessings,'” she writes. “That last part caught my eye. I had just been thinking how blessed I was feeling.

“There was a spiritual element to Leah’s note, with no agenda. From one soul to another, asking for nothing for return, she was simply saying she was happy for me. Oh, that’s lovely, I thought to myself.”

RELATED: ‘Below Deck’ Star Sandy Yawn, 56, On How A Near-Death Motorcycle Crash Was A Lucky Break: Doctors Spotted Her Cancer

Shafer also sent Yawn a link to her music. And blown away by her voice, Yawn decided to invite her to perform on her I Believe Tour where she used “music along with life experiences of those who have overcome to inspire and empower others.” Eventually, she decided to fly Shafer out to Los Angeles to meet her in person.

“It was love at first sight,” she writes. “We hugged, and we’ve been together ever since. By 2019 we were living together at her home in Denver.”

Yawn continues by saying Shafer has taught her “grace.”

“Until she came into my life, I never fully understood the true meaning of the word,” she writes. “When someone is having a bad day, you don’t chide them or try to make them stop whatever it is they are doing that’s manifesting the bad mood. Instead, you give them grace and let them have that bad day without judgment.

“If I am doing something that’s not nice, I ask Leah, ‘Can I have a do over?’ That’s something I taught her. She gives me that do over, but she gives it with grace. She doesn’t constantly remind me, she doesn’t add it to a list of grievances, and she doesn’t hold me to court.”

A “deeply spiritual” woman, Yawn considers Shafer to be her gift from God.

“Leah is God’s gift to me,” she writes. “She makes me feel like I have found my way home.”

Sandy Yawn’s Cancer Journey

Sandy Yawn is happily in love and has no grievances sharing that lovely truth with her fans. But she’s also been open about her struggles – including her battle with kidney cancer.

Yawn was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2015. But the only reason doctors discovered her disease was because of a harrowing motorcycle accident.

“I was on my way to the Miami Boat Show doing about 70 mph,” she said in an interview with ITV. “And a car pulled in front of me, and I T-boned the car, and as I was flipping in the air, I felt my mother’s presence, and I thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to go to heaven and see my mom.’

“I landed on the pavement, and I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I was grateful I could move.”

Once she was at the hospital, doctors discovered her stage 2 kidney cancer.Yawn underwent laparoscopic surgery less than one month after her accident, and, thankfully, she’s been cancer-free ever since.

“Who would have ever thought they would be grateful for being in a motorcycle crash? But I was,” Yawn wrote for Women’s Health. “As the doctor explained, it might have been years until that tumor was found. At that point, the cancer would have progressed, and it would have been too late.”

Understanding Kidney Cancer

Kidney cancer develops when cells in the kidneys – a pair of bean-shaped organs each about the size of a fist – begin to grow out of control. Renal cell carcinoma (RCC) is the most common type of kidney cancer with about9 out of 10 kidney cancers being RCCs.

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Kidney cancer is among the 10 most common cancers in both men and women, according to the American Cancer Society. Additionally, the rate of new kidney cancers has been rising since the 1990s, but this seems to have leveled off in the past few years.

Here are some signs of the disease to look out for:

  • Blood in the urine (hematuria)
  • Low back pain on one side (not caused by injury)
  • A mass (lump) on the side or lower back
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss not caused by dieting
  • Fever that is not caused by an infection and doesn’t go away
  • Anemia (low red blood cell counts)

According to UCLA Health, kidney cancer can metastasize, or spread, to any part of the body through the blood or lymphatic system. When that happens, the first signs of cancer may not be specific to your kidneys.

Symptoms of metastatic kidney cancer may cause symptoms in the newly affected areas of the body including:

  • The lungs, causing cough and shortness of breath
  • The bones, resulting in bone pain or fracture
  • The brain, presenting as headaches, confusion or seizures

That being said, all of these signs do not necessarily mean you have cancer. Still, you should always bring up any changes to your health with your doctors.

“Traditionally, kidney cancer was diagnosed in people coming in with blood in the urine, a mass [in the] belly that was big enough that you could feel, or pain on that side,”Dr. Geoffrey Sonn, a urologic oncologist with Stanford Hospital and Clinics, previously told SurvivorNet. “More recently – because of the great increase in the use of imaging with ultrasound, CAT scans, MRI – most kidney cancers [are] diagnosed incidentally, meaning a scan is done for another reason.”

Dr. Sonn says doctors finding a mass seen on imaging done for another reason is “the most common presentation” of the disease. Some patients without symptoms might discover their cancer through scans done for unrelated reasons, and other might discover the cancer after a scan to investigate abdominal pain. Either way, it’s important to stay up to date on check ups and speak with your doctors about any possible signs of something being wrong.

“For localized kidney cancer, for relatively small masses that have not metastasized, most often patients feel nothing, and this is found on a scan done for another reason,” he said. “For larger masses of the kidney they may have pain on that side, they may see blood in the urine or a routine urine test may show a microscopic amount of blood in the urine that’s not enough to be seen visually but still will prompt further testing with imaging that shows the kidney cancer.”

Thriving after a Cancer Battle

A cancer diagnosis will change your life. But we’ve seen so many survivors thrive on the other side of their cancer journey.

Take Marecya Burton, for example. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at just 20 years old. Burton was a college student-athlete looking forward to graduation at the time, but all that had to change when she was forced to move home to start treatment.

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“That was definitely challenging for me,” Burton said in a previous interview with SurvivorNet. “I was looking forward to graduating.”

She also had planned on pursuing a law degree after graduation – another dream she had to give up.

“I really had to, in a sense, put my life on hold,” she said. “Sometimes I look at where I am, and I can’t help but wonder, would I be further had I not had my diagnosis?”

But instead of law school, Burton found a new passion: teaching. She became a high school teacher in Baltimore, Maryland, and she’s since made peace with her new direction in life.

“I wouldn’t change my career for the world,” she says. “It’s so fulfilling.”

Learn more about SurvivorNet's rigorous medical review process.

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