Monday, May 11, 2009

A Thought for Today

As Karen said, I am also very happy to be another year of my Wedding Anniversary and also a Happy Mother Day! My son gave me a hug and a kiss!! Robins gave me tiny flowers which he said with a huge thought is attached!!!

When bad things happened in this earthly world, we are fast to ask so many questions to God....Why? How? what? Where? But........ when good things happened to Karen Anderson, me and more, people tend to forget asking questions to God!!

Went to the church yesterday. One of our Church member family is in a very hard time in life. The father is facing Kidney Cancer. I had been there and know that how he feels without asking. They are from Korea and now closing everything in Bangkok..his business, his house, ....etc!!

I was at the Choir seats so I can see the sadness of the wife and the youngest daughter. Chris is only 16! She was crying most of the church service. I wish I could help them. I wish them so much back to normal life. I wish to see the father, mother and daughters they all sit together as one happy family like before I used to remember. One thing I remember to do, I will pray for them.

In life...we all will face difficult time in different ways. I do not know that the father will be better or not but I will pray. I do my part with faith.... praying!! I have faith that God will do in God's ways. Dear God, please help the family to see the best way to deal with the father's health problem.

As the news writer said..."No one is promising a rosy future!!

My God never say to me that I won't die but God said clearly .."Who ever abide in me shall be safe!!....Safe, How?? I do not have answer for that but I believe all up to the good God. What I have to do is ..." Have Faith in God with Action"!

For this mom, it’s about love and trust
Karen Anderson’s cancer diagnosis meant near-certain death, but she put her faith in life

By Susan Palmer

The Register-Guard

Posted to Web: Sunday, May 10, 2009 12:19AM
Appeared in print: Sunday, May 10, 2009, page A6

News: Local: Photo
Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard

Karen Anderson, diagnosed with cancer two years ago, is surrounded by her son William, husband Michael and daughter Helen.

News: Local: Story

Karen Anderson wears a silver bracelet with the single word “trust” engraved on it.

It’s not an easy concept to embrace when your dad has died of cancer, and your sister — the one who directed you to the bracelet — also fought and succumbed to the disease.

What exactly do you trust when you discover you have melanoma of the metastatic stage four variety? When you’re 44 years old and a wife, mother and teacher, and the disease has spread through your lymph nodes to your liver, bones and breasts?

Anderson learned she had the disease exactly two years and one day ago.

But on a recent sunny morning, surrounded by her husband, Michael, 19-year-old daughter Helen and 15-year-old son William, she looked relaxed and happy as the family described their Mother’s Day plans.

First there’s a gift from Helen: a work of calligraphy expressing in flowing French lines: “As the mother, so the daughter.”

Then there’s a little something fun from William: tickets to the local roller derby.

The day also will include a visit to Salem to spend time with Anderson’s mother, who fancies a walk across a new bridge spanning the Willamette River.

It’ll be low-key, the family says. But it will include what matters: being together.

Two years ago, the odds were so against this day. Faced with a bleak prognosis, Anderson opted to participate in clinical trials, options that might improve her chances or might not. She would be one of the guinea pigs helping doctors understand the value of new treatments.

“I did it because I wanted to be here for my family,” Anderson said.

A really nasty case

That May two years ago, Anderson was getting ready for a family vacation to the Caribbean when she noticed a lump on her neck. A biopsy revealed melanoma, a rare yet potent kind of skin cancer. It had already spread to her lymph nodes.

Following surgery to remove the nodes, Anderson got accepted for a clinical trial, but after just a few months, doctors found the cancer was spreading anyway. It had moved to her bones, breasts, liver and more lymph nodes.

That discovery bumped her from her first clinical trial to a second that involved a hospital stay and a cocktail of physically debilitating drugs that were considered lethal to the cancer. After that treatment, there was a respite of mere weeks before excruciating pain sent her back to the hospital.

A tumor in Anderson’s liver had grown dangerously large.

She thought it was the end of the road, and so did her oncologist, Dr. Walter Urba, medical director of the Providence Cancer Center’s cancer program and a melanoma specialist.

Anderson had proved to be a confounding patient for Urba. He’d begun believing she had a good chance of beating the disease, then had watched it progress to one of the nastiest cases of melanoma he’d ever seen.

“I thought, ‘How am I going to make it feel better so that in the last few weeks of her life I can make it comfortable so she can enjoy her family?’ ” Urba said.

Anderson describes Urba’s treatment of the liver tumor as the equivalent of “filling it with chemo and spray foam insulation in the hopes that it would block the tumor’s blood supply.”

That episode was followed by months of recuperation at home. When she began to feel better, Anderson joined a third clinical trial for a drug that she could actually feel working.

“The tumors in me started getting hot and growing, then they slowly shrank and eventually disappeared,” she said.

All except for one.

The blood-brain barrier, a “screen” that keeps toxics in the blood from interfering with the functions in the brain, also screened out the tumor-killing drugs, Urba said.

A brain scan revealed yet another tumor and other scans showed liver tumors returning.

She went back to Portland for gamma knife radiation, a nonsurgical technique that uses radiation to destroy tumors but spares nearby tissue. Usually it’s quite tolerable, but Anderson’s brain swelled and, in the end, her doctor had to surgically remove the golf-ball-size growth.

More weeks of anxious waiting followed and then, in February of this year, follow-up scans showed that Anderson was free of disease.

It was stunning news. The drug she took during the third clinical trial, Ipilimumab, which also goes by the name AntiCTLA-4, appeared to be controlling tumors even though she hadn’t taken it for months.

Anderson and Urba are both quick to say it wasn’t just the drugs. Some combination of treatment, personal effort and family support made the difference for her, they said. The support group around Anderson impressed her doctor.

“There wasn’t a single visit when she came alone,” Urba said. “Her husband was with her almost every time. Her mom came, her daughter came, her friends came.”

Not done fighting

While singing their praises, Anderson acknowledges that it has been a hardship both emotionally and financially. Until her diagnosis, she had been working as a preschool teacher and loved her job. Her illness made work impossible.

Her husband, a military veteran, had good insurance, but there were many uncovered costs in getting treated in Portland.

Everyone around Anderson stepped up to help.

“It has really been hard on the kids,” she said. Helen had a “messy” senior year and decided to attend the University of Oregon to be close to home rather than a preferred out-of-state school.

Anderson frankly leaned on friends who would get phone calls from her such as: “I have to have brain surgery today. Could you pick my son up from school?”

But for now, all that has changed. With the tumors currently absent, Anderson has been enjoying the grace of simply being alive. She walks a lot with friends, but they never really get anywhere, she said. Anderson is always stopping to gawk at an interesting house or a beautiful tree.

“I’m just happy to be here another Mother’s Day,” she said. “I fought so hard to be here for my kids.”

And she’s not done fighting. Recently recognized by the American Cancer Association as a “Hero of Hope,” she will be participating in the Relay for Life, a research fund-raiser that Anderson first got involved with back when her family members fell ill.

She’s part of a relay team, the Sole Sisters. Last year, the group organized a golf tournament to raise money in advance of the event. The group pulled in $6,000 and will try to best that with $9,000 for this year’s event on July 24, she said.

Anderson will make the effort because of her belief in the value of clinical trials.

Her story itself has a profound effect, Urba said. Invited to speak in Portland last week at an event for cancer research donors, Anderson got a standing ovation from an audience moved by her struggle. (Read a copy of her speech at

“She’s had a remarkable response to this new therapy. It came from the research and work of many people around the world trying to develop new strategies,” Urba said.

But no one is promising a rosy future.

“As far as we know, she has no active tumor. She knows this doesn’t mean she’ll never have to face this melanoma again. She is at risk for recurrence,” Urba said.

Anderson is equally blunt.

“I do believe that this will kill me, whether it’s a month from now or 20 years from now,” she said.

That’s where trust comes into play.

“You have to trust in your life and your death, and that everything happens for a reason even if you don’t understand it or it seems horrible,” Anderson said. “You just need to live your life and let it flow and know it’s going to work somehow.”

“I’m just happy to be here another Mother’s Day. I fought so hard to be here for my kids.”

Karen Anderson
Cancer survivor

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