Our friend Karen

Our friend Karen lived with generosity and unabashed joy.

In fact, if your knew our Karen, you’d feel a whole lot better about this old world. I promise.

Karen, who would have turned 57-years old last week, waged an incredible battle against Ovarian Cancer that spanned seven years, more than 30 rounds of chemo, three major abdominal surgeries and six recurrences. She fought like a champion for every day and, though she lost her beautiful, thick, wavy hair a couple of times, she never lost her smile.

In fact, that big toothy grin defined her more than the cancer ever did.

While I know the name “Karen” has become synonymous with a kind of nasty privilege, our Karen has always been exactly the opposite.

Our Karen worked as a NICU nurse and told life-affirming stories about carrying tiny babies in her pocket to keep her hands free and those babies close to her heart. Our Karen learned to speak Spanish so she could volunteer at a hospital in Guatemala. Our Karen loved her boys — husband Joe and sons Charlie and Jack — so fiercely she did everything within her mortal power to extend her time with them.

In the end, utterly ravaged by her fight and understanding she wasn’t going to win, Karen asked her doctors if there was anything she could do to help someone else in her situation, either by participating in early stage clinical trials or volunteering to undergo an experimental procedure that would help researchers advance treatment of her disease.

Her doctor told her it was time to stand down.

“You have just fought an incredible fight,” he said. “You, your family and your friends have been an inspiration to me and this entire staff. You owe it to yourselves to spend what time you have left without pain and without any more suffering.”

Karen responded by inviting him and her entire medical team to her house for pizza and wine.

She entered hospice but, with the support of her medical team, signed herself out for one last Memorial Day weekend with her friends. By then, she could not keep any food down, the stalactites and stalagmites of the cancer in her abdomen had shut down her entire digestive system. Still, she kept us laughing all weekend.

At one point, her good friend , also named Joe, called to check in from New Jersey.

“Karen is running us through her dating history,” I told him. “Your name came up.”

“Twice, if I’m not mistaken,” he responded with delight.

Two years after Karen died, we lost our friend Joe as well and it gives us all great comfort to know those two hooligans are up there together, making mischief and keeping an eye on each of their beloved families.

We live in a difficult age, and I’ve seen the name Karen bandied about in relation to all kinds of rude and appalling behaviour.

So, I wanted to reintroduce you to our Karen, a beautiful soul whose memory continues to improve a world she reluctantly had to leave far too soon.

I took this picture of Vince and our friends Joe and Karen the summer before she died. I gave Karen that T-shirt and I was touched to learn she asked to be buried in it. She was beautiful and she wanted the world to know it was beautiful too. You’ll note that Karen has the biggest smile in every picture.

Karen, her husband Joe (who mans a mean grill), and their son Jack at our tailgate before a Packer game. They are huge Packer fans and named their dog Lambeau. Joe has done an amazing job raising their sons Jack and Charlie, who are growing up to be gentlemen, scholars and really nice guys.
Vince, Karen, our friend Jane, and I at Cozzy Corner.
I didn’t take this picture, but I wanted to include it because it shows Karen’s spirit. She, Charlie and Jack all went down the Bernie the Brewer slide at Miller Park. Jack and Karen were a little nervous about it but Karen said, “If Jack could face his fears, I could too.” and down they both went!
That’s Karen in the middle shortly after we graduated from college. I thought you should get to appreciate the glory of her gorgeous mane.
I love this picture I took of two great friends, both with February birthdays. Rest in peace and joy, smiley friends. Your time on earth was way too short but your positive impact remains.

10 thoughts on “Our friend Karen

  1. Beautifully written Laura ! Thanks for sharing such a good story. Brought happy tears to my eyes and such fond memories of those two!

  2. The world needs more Karen’s. Thank you for your heartfelt words that captured her spirit. I wish I had known her!

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