—Karen Allen, patient and motorcycle enthusiast
IT BEGAN IN JUNE OF 2008.
Karen was feeling more tired than usual, but with a full-time job and two teenage daughters, she figured she was just getting older.
“But in the back of my mind, I knew I was sick,” said Karen.
One day in the shower she noticed several lumps along her rib cage. “That was new, so I went to see my doctor the same day.”
Karen was diagnosed with Stage IV follicular non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (FNHL). She had widespread lymphoma in her lymph nodes.
FNHL is often diagnosed in its later stages because it is an indolent cancer (causing little or no pain) and can be very quiet. Because of Karen’s overall excellent health, her initial oncologist wanted to watch and wait before beginning treatment. “Watch it progress?” Karen says. “The suggestion of not immediately treating my disease was like a punch in the stomach.”
Karen headed to Seattle to get a second opinion, which led her to Dr. Ajay Gopal, Director of Clinical Research, Hematology Malignancies/Hematology at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. “He explained to me the latest data and the standard approach for this type of lymphoma. Then he told me about a clinical trial.
“With the clinical trial at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, my care team treated the lymphoma much like a chronic disease,” said Karen. “At this advanced stage of my cancer, there is no cure.” Within three months, she was feeling better. “Remarkably normal,” she said.
The clinical trial that Karen received is on the cutting edge of cancer treatment. “It was a game-changer. If I hadn’t been at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance I might not have known about it. Without it, I don’t think I’d be able to live such a normal life.
Being at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, I felt like I didn’t have to take this cancer journey alone—I was surrounded by knowledgeable and caring people. They helped me understand that my fears didn’t have to ruin my life.”
Karen’s experience with cancer helped her live life more boldly. “I would never have learned to ride a motorcycle without having cancer first. I needed a really big push.”After passing a motorcycle safety course, she met a woman named Flo Fuhr who had ridden her motorcycle across the country—from Florida to Vancouver Island, B.C.—and who now made an annual trip to raise money for breast cancer.
In July of 2010, Karen decided to ride with Flo and give back to breast cancer research through her fundraising. “There’s nothing like being on a motorcycle, especially when you’re helping others at the same time. It was a huge gift of wellness for me and I have many people to thank for that.
It’s been interesting being a cancer patient who looks healthy and is happy. People ask me for advice,” she said. “They ask, ‘How do you do it and live happily?’
“For me, it took a motorcycle and an annual breast cancer fundraiser. Listening to others walk this cancer path unites me with those who are also fighting the fight.”
Karen’s fight is ongoing. During a routine mammogram, which occurred on the same day as a regular check-up for her lymphoma, a small “spot” was found in Karen’s breast. In March 2015, Karen was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I had so many feelings,” Karen said of the second diagnosis. “Initially, ‘Here we go again’ … ‘How could I be so unlucky?’”
With her experiences at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance for her lymphoma, Karen had no doubts that she would receive treatment for her breast cancer there as well.
“I felt confident of the treatment I received at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance,” she said. “I knew I would plug into the resources.” At the end of April, Kristine E. Calhoun, MD, performed Karen’s surgery to remove the cancer.
“Everyone collaborated with everyone,” Karen said.
Karen didn’t have any of the “typical” side effects from her breast cancer treatment. She did not lose her hair.
“I’m here and I’m doing really well,” she said.
“Even though I’m sick, I can still live well and look forward to the future. Having cancer has made me bolder and braver, but Seattle Cancer Care Alliance gives me a sense of security that lets me do the things I want to do.
“I want to get a tattoo—but that’s probably not the best idea for a cancer patient.” She laughs. “I’m actually thinking about getting a second bike for off-road, and you know what? I can’t wait to see what’s around the next bend.”
Dr. Calhoun is a dedicated breast surgery specialist for benign and malignant breast conditions. As Karen’s breast surgeon, Dr. Calhoun helped her understand the choices that were available to her and helped guide her through the process so that she not only understood the what but also the why behind her cancer and surgical intervention.
As an oncology nurse, Ceybom provides compassionate patient and family-centered care while coordinating and assisting in individualized treatment for patients like Karen. Ceybom educates patients about their illness and is always available to listen, answer questions, or help them in any other way she possibly can.
As a nurse navigator at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Leslie helps to meet the needs of patients like Karen with information and educational materials relating to diagnosis, treatment, coping, support groups, and community offerings. Leslie makes sure patients and their families know the overall treatment picture and is there to answer questions every step of the way.
“Seattle Cancer Care Alliance was one of the first multi-disciplinary clinics in the country—we all work together to do great things for great people.”
“We all have the same goal at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, and that is to care for our patients. Whatever that takes.”
“One of the strengths of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance is that we do have so many specialists and cutting-edge things going on...we really can bring the strengths of numerous programs and work together so the patient has the best outcome.”
“THEY MADE ME FEEL LIKE I WAS THEIR ONLY PATIENT.”
When Ali was diagnosed with cancer, she was determined to keep her lifestyle. At Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, she received conventional treatments and an innovative clinical trial.
“THERE’S NO OTHER PLACE I WOULD RECOMMEND.”
You’d never know Steve is a three-time cancer survivor. This avid cyclist has been treated at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance with a combination of surgeries that helped him beat the odds.