Karen has been a patient at Mass General for the past two years, taking advantage of the supportive care and integrative therapies programs to help ease the side effects of her cancer treatment.

What have you learned about yourself since being diagnosed?

"I was diagnosed just over two years ago. I have a lot more strength and perseverance than I ever expected I would have; a lot of determination that I’m not even sure where it’s coming from. Just sort of a power on and deal attitude."

Is there anything that has stood out as your biggest struggle during this time?

"Having the patience with my body to heal after each surgery and taking the time to rest and not just try and move on like nothing happened."

Do you feel like your life has changed drastically?

"Drastic is a little harsh, but significantly, yes. I mean I don’t see having the energy to go back to work and I have a cancer that currently has no cure so it’s constant scans, constant blood work, it’s constant treatments where they’re trying to stay one step on top of it."

How has this affected what you consider to be important in your life?

"Yes, I definitely had to let go of a lot of things that are almost insignificant, like the little things that make you angry, and just not even let them bother me anymore, and sort of live in the moment and just enjoy you know, even if I’m having a hard time getting stuck with needles, which is okay, but I am still here and there is a treatment for me and I did have a port, and I’m just trying to see the positive in everything and just appreciate every moment I have with my children and my family and my friends."

What have you thought about your experience here at MGH?

"It’s been fantastic here! I live further out west, so it’s been harder for me to take advantage of so many of the other programs that you offer but I usually do if I can work it into a day when I’m here. I try to take advantage of the other things, like a support group or, I haven’t actually done acupuncture here, but like the yoga and meditation. I like that they treat it as we’re not just treating the cancer, we’re treating the whole person with cancer."

Do you have advice for someone going through a similar experience?

"My advice would be to accept help from anyone and everyone who offers whatever you they can, and to, you know some people don’t want to always do support groups but at least then maybe one on one with a social worker, or chaplain if they don’t want to do the support group—I think the psychological piece to it is huge, as much as the physical piece, and take advantage of the things like the yoga, exercise, meditation, you know, everything that is offered. I didn’t do any of that after my first surgery, and I healed remarkably faster after my second surgery than I did after my first. I could really see the difference and I think the acupuncture especially helps, at least for me, the pain and the nausea symptoms that come along with treatment."

Does acupuncture hurt?

"Um no, you know how you get a little prick from a little shock? That’s like the most you feel. I have a lot of nerve damage, so in those spots I don’t even feel it all, but it’s just the tiniest little poke, not even like a needle stick or getting a shot or anything like that, I would attribute it more to like a little electric shock or zap that’s gone before you really feel it. They’re very thin sharp needles; I mean you hurt yourself more with staples and other things."

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

"Well, I want to thank you for even doing this project and just bringing awareness to the hospital and to the Cancer Center. I was just talking with Sarah [the photographer] about how before I was diagnosed, I mean I knew people with cancer but I had not invested anything into it, and I think it’s huge as far as the money that goes towards the research, and treatments, and just the variety, and when someone is diagnosed with cancer there’s just, even two people who have the same diagnosis can have two totally separate treatments, which that whole aspect of it, I was just completely unaware of and even how far behind we are as far as children and their treatment and the research and the treatments available for them. So, anything that brings awareness and positivity to having cancer I am happy to be a part of."

This interview was conducted on December 14, 2016.

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