This is what a gold medal from the 2014 Olympics looks like - this one happens to be for Alpine Skiing Women's Downhill. I will never win a gold medal, and I will probably never know anyone who has or will ever medal at the Olympics. But I know a champion who has had to jump into the wind and face moguls and dangerous turns that would terrify any Olympic athlete.
To make a very long, long story short,.. Karen went in to see a doctor when she found a lump. (Isn't that what we've all been told to do by every public service announcement, magazine article and documentary we've seen on women's health)? She didn't ignore it, she didn't "wait too long." But this is what they said; "You're too young to have cancer. Insurance won't cover an MRI for someone your age ..Come back in 6 months and we will check it again."
Fast forward. In 9 short months, Karen has gone through a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, and lung surgery . She was told today that she has to go through another 2 rounds of chemotherapy and the diagnosis just continues to get more confusing. Karen is a young, healthy, fit, bright, beautiful young woman. She tries to do the right thing. She is kind. She is one of the good ones. But cancer doesn't care about that, it is no respecter of persons.
Karen tackled her opponent with laser focus. Like any athlete, she studied ts strategies and looked for its' weaknesses. She read anything and everything she could get her hands on about nutrition, health, alternative therapies, exercise, and traditional medicine.
She didn't really need to adjust her habits or patterns, she was already a healthy eater, a runner, never smoked, never did drugs, and rarely drank alcohol. But she wanted to be even better - she had to be at her peak fitness level to fight this thing, and her determination was palpable. Everyone around her got healthier and stronger in the process of showing solidarity to her - we all needed it much more than she did. She was healthier than all of us. She was exercising during chemo and hiking the week after having 3/4 of her lung removed. But she was the one who had cancer. It didn't make any sense. It definitely wasn't fair. Cancer is never fair.
#TEAMKAREN. provided support in the form of T-shirts, a facebook page. flowers, food, organic soaps and candles, books, magazines and bumper stickers. Race for the Cure had huge #TEAMKAREN teams and best wishes came in from all over the world. She had loved well and it was returned to her in abundance.
As important as her Olympic training support team was, it was ultimately Karen herself who provided strength and support to the people around her. She went out of her way to make people feel comfortable with her beautiful bald head, and she smiled that brilliant smile to strengthen people on the verge of tears who visited her. During it all, instead of complaining or worrying about herself, she expressed constant concern for her mom, dad, brother, friends and fiance. She was holding everyone up around her with her humor, courage and strength. Even in those brave moments when she showed her doubt, weakness and frailty, she continued to inspire everyone around her.
But Karen isn't defined by the thing that has has temporarily interrupted her life. Though it has made her angry, frustrated and sometimes tearful, it hasn't been able to rob her of her spirit or become her identity. She is so much more than a diagnosis; she is a woman, a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister, a cousin, a niece, a friend, a fiance, a grad student, a social worker, an athlete, a kind human being. She loves seaweed, Beyoncé, barre classes, Japan, and pilates. She wants to go to Iceland.
She will face the Olympic trials ahead of her as she has in the past year, with grace, humility, courage and love. She will get married to Ben, give her mom and dad grandchildren, and continue to make the world a better place by being in it. She will continue to go for the gold. I know she will be on that podium with a full head of hair very soon and there won't be a room be big enough to hold all of the people who will want to be there to see it happen. She is a champion in the truest sense of the word.