Karen Warren

The Following Was Written By Karen Warren Shortly Before The 2012 Pig Bowl

When you have blue eyes, light hair, and fair skin checking your skin should be just a way of life. You check it, your friends say “Maybe that should be checked out” and doctors make sure. I have had “skin checks” since high school. There was nothing that really brought worry or concern, although I had the occasional punch biopsy of a mole or freckle. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I had a patch on my back shoulder that was different but not changing rapidly. “Get it checked out.” Then came the call a couple of weeks later; It was indeed melanoma and needed to be surgically removed. This was stage 1 melanoma. “Only surface…not a problem…we deal with this all the time.” Great prognosis and on with life…that’s what I heard. So with lots of prayer and a same day surgery that’s what happened. All margins came out clear and I was good to go.

Fast forward to February 2012, life is moving forward fast, but so blessed. It is just after my birthday, and I notice a lump behind my collar bone. It’s tender but not too bad. As a nurse I just let things sit for 2 weeks because they are often resolved in that time, especially infections. I’m thinking it’s a cold, but it’s not gone in 2 weeks. My fellow nurses and family are saying go have it checked out. So I do. We try a round of antibiotic, get an ultrasound, but nothing really says what it is except the looming thoughts of melanoma from a few years ago. It’s the same shoulder. The mass grows enough that I am in discomfort all the time…On to the specialists in The Dalles. Several biopsies are done, but there is no clear diagnosis. The decision for a lumpectomy is made so we can figure out what is going on. Prior to the surgery the surgeon orders a full abdominal CT scan. I learn that I have one more mass in my spine that we will have to deal with. “After surgery,” I say, “Can it wait till after surgery?”

A racket ball size mass is removed from my shoulder and biopsied. Melanoma is the diagnosis and now it’s time to address the next phases. Just because you cut it out does not mean you’re done. The whirlwind of appointments has just begun. I am referred to a neurosurgeon at OHSU so he can assess my vertebra and make sure the tumor has not affected the spinal column. By this point, this tumor is large enough that I hurt all the time and life has less quality. I can’t laugh with my family without spasms of back pain.

I am also introduced to Radiation Oncology; they will help decide if focal radiation or general radiation will be the best route of care. Then there is Medication Oncology who help decided what medication will help move the body into a state of attacking the cancer, not being attacked. With melanoma there is so much promising research and results showing that we can train the body to fight for itself and get rid of the disease.

These “meet and greets” take all day trips to OHSU, your family on hold, your work on hold, day by day, moment by moment decisions. It is overwhelming and tiring and requires a lot of prayer and strength from God. Prior to the first focal treatment on my back the doctor ordered an MRI of the brain, just to be safe because there were no deficits that would indicate the brain was affected. The results come back with 3 more lesions to the brain. That was a shock; it’s now stage 4 melanoma. It can pop-up more places, but we hope to have found it all. The radiation to the back happened and was good. Pain decreased and made life endurable again. The 7 focal treatments to the brain lesions have happened and we wait and see.

I am now in to the medication part of the treatments. My body did not tolerate the first medication of choice, so that one will not continue. I am now in the limbo time of letting my body get over the first medication response so it will be ready for the next medication. In early September I get my next MRI to see if there are any changes in the tumors or any new growth. From there the new treatment plan comes together. The tumor in my spine isn’t over yet and surgery may still be needed. Today is living each day and being there for my kids and having my family be there for me.

I have two wonderful children who take each day in stride. Cody, 14, and Crysta, 12, help make my life so full of joy. I have parents who have put their life on pause to be there every moment when I need them and I have so many more family and friends who do the same. During this difficult time, I am blessed to know that there is also a community who cares. God is so good in my life and I know He blesses and only has good in store.

Thank you, Karen Warren

Please see the “Where are they now” section of our website to see how Karen and her family are doing today.
Get there right now by clicking this link:
http://pigbowl.net/karen-warren-today.php