Leader Hopes to Inspire Others After Surviving Cancer

Robin Yoder just can’t pull herself away from her art studio. The stained glass artist always finds one more shard to add.  "Everything broken can be pieced back together into something beautiful,” the Chesterfield woman said. Yoder is no stranger to handling the shattered.

“I like doing the glass because you just concentrate on what you’re doing. And everything else just fades away. And that is what I need to escape,” Yoder said. Her craft parallels her job. 

Yoder co-founded the Hawthorn Cancer Center at Johnston-Willis Hospital where for 30 years she has been serving as a clinical social worker. Hawthorn provides survivors emotional and financial support and love from Robin.

"All of my patients mean something to me,” she said. “It is incredibly gratifying. I deeply understand the importance of human connection through this experience." This Cancer Survivors Day gathering is more of a family reunion. Grateful members credit their social worker with leading them through the darkness.

“Robin is an angel though,” one of her patients said. “Robin is always my safe spot. You can call her and you can text her.”

Survivors trust Yoder because over time she too has walked the same journey. When she was an 18-year-old high school senior, she was diagnosed with bone cancer. The diagnosis ruined her chances at a division one scholarship.

“As a teen, I couldn’t understand how I could be running on the basketball court one week and three weeks later I was fighting for my life,” she said. Robin made a full recovery, but in 2010, her cancer returned and this time much worse.

“I was diagnosed and three weeks later my leg was amputated,” Yoder said. "I knew there were a lot of conflicting emotions but I knew this was the beginning of my new life."

The loss of her right leg was devastating. Fitted with a prosthetic and filled with self-doubt the triathlete needed to take her first step all over again. “Not literally but sometimes fall down once and get up twice kind of thing and keep trying,” she said.

The woman with a burning desire to compete was not deterred. “This is the 1996 Olympic torch. I was a torchbearer through Richmond,” Yoder said. To flourish, this trained professional needed to show her own vulnerability. “In that moment I realized that all of the people I’ve helped I have to let help me,” she said. The road to recovery has been a challenge. 

“I’ve made peace with that leg. I had to let it go. I made peace with that leg. But I do miss it,” Yoder said. Her disability is fueling her competitiveness. “I didn’t go through this journey not to feel this. This makes me feel alive,” she said.

Recently the married mother of one rowed herself into the record books - twice. “I’ve set two world records. One was 2018 and the other was recently May 1,” Yoder said. Husband Wayne draws inspiration from his wife’s determination.

“Nothing stops her. If she is going to do something she is going to do it one way or another she is going to get it done. You’re not going to tell her no," he said.

World records and torch runs aside Robin said her greatest passion inspiring others. “So if that gives that person a little more motivation to take that next step to keep those feet shuffling forward then this has been worth it,” Yoder said.

From athlete to artist, Robin Yoder is carving quite a legacy. “You can easily get lost out here and forget about your woes of the day,” she said. Helping people reconstruct their lives including her own. "You can make something out of broken pieces if you just stick with it. And look at it differently. It is all about how you view something," she said.

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