Battling breast cancer is not easy, but when you’ve got caring friends it makes the battle bearable.
Karen Terrell believes that if it had not been for the support of her loved ones, her experience with breast cancer would have been different.
“I never sought out a support group, because I had my family and friends, said Terrell. “I never had to go to my treatments by myself, people kept me entertained, and I still went out to dinner. That’s what got me through; that and being positive.”
According to the Sisters Network Inc., a national African-American breast cancer support organization, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among African American women. The United States Department of Health and Human Services says African-American women are more likely than all other women to die from breast cancer. Tumors are found at a later, more advanced stage, so there are fewer treatment options.
Terrell’s band of buddies have also come together on her behalf to form “Karen’s Angels” and will be walking in the Indianapolis affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s 19th annual Race for the Cure on Saturday, April 17.
Eight years prior to Terrell and her friends coming together in support of raising money for a breast cancer cure, she had been receiving annual breast exams and watched her mother battle the disease three times.
While giving herself a self-exam, she felt a lump. Like many cancer survivors, Terrell couldn’t believe that at the age of 45, she could possibly have breast cancer. Her doctor informed her that she did in fact have Stage 1 breast cancer.
“When you are diagnosed, you think ‘why me?’ I did everything I thought I was supposed to do. You expect older people to have it,” said Terrell.
Due to her family history and age, Terrell had a mastectomy. Additional tests confirmed the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. Doctors suggested that in addition to having her breast removed, she would need six months of chemotherapy and radiation.
Just as she feared, her hair fell out and the chemotherapy treatments made her ill. Breast cancer did not, however, destroy her spirit.
During this time, Terrell had her family and friends right by her side. Judie Hawley Conley says although it was difficult to watch Terrell suffer from breast cancer, she made sure her sister-in-law continued to have a normal life.
“When Karen lost her hair, I was like ‘come on girl, let’s go buy you some hair,’ ” joked Hawley Conley. “She’s so strong. Her strength gave me strength. I went through this with her.”
Hawley Conley had been approached to participate in the Susan G. Komen for the Cure walk and decided that instead of joining other teams, she would form Karen’s Angels in Terrell’s honor. She gathered 20 of her and Terrell’s closest friends to participate in the race. These women are said to be very special.
“They are a beautiful and dynamic group of women,” said Kelly Young, chair of the 2010 Race for the Cure in Indianapolis.
Karen’s Angels have been participating in Race for the Cure for five years.
What also makes Karen’s Angels special is the group doesn’t just come together once a year for the race – they celebrate life year round with get-togethers, events and general support.
Terrell recalls the Angels’ last Christmas party where everyone dressed in pink, ate pink food, drank pink drinks and even had a pink Christmas tree. They have also hosted everything from a “Sleep for the Cure” slumber party, a Prayer for the Cure event and a Dine for the Cure to help raise money for Komen Indianapolis.
“It’s rare to pick a group of people that you really want to be with and have a good time. I just think it’s good to have fellowship, hang out and talk about things a few times a year. That’s what makes our team unique,” said Hawley Conley.
Terrell is grateful for the support given by her loved ones and looks forward to this year’s race. Beating breast cancer has given her a new lease on life, but she remains steadfast in maintaining her health. She has changed her eating habits, fitness routine and until recently would have a mammogram and ultrasound every six months. In her off months, she would also have a breast MRI. Terrell has been cancer free for seven years and today takes no medication for the disease.
She knows her experience with breast cancer was special, but encourages other cancer sufferers to find their support – Terrell is living proof, cancer victims shouldn’t have to go through their experience alone.
For more information about the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, call (317) 638-CURE or visit www.komenindy.org.