Cancer journey takes practical route

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Never stop getting tested . . . Karen White uses a Breast Cancer New Zealand keychain to display the sizes of cancer that can be found by regular mammograms. The smallest bead is 2mm, the next is 14.5mm (the average size of cancer found by regular mammograms) and the last is 22mm (the average size of lump found by a woman self-checking). PHOTO: SHANNON GILLIES

They had their surgery on the same day, but only one of the two women would live.

For former Oamaru motelier Karen White, being diagnosed with cancer late last year – after spending the most of the year looking after a family member who had to endure terrible health – was nothing compared to the pain she felt losing her best friend.

“The day of my surgery, my best friend had heart surgery. She went into Mercy Hospital the night before. The next morning her husband called to say she wasn’t going to come out of recovery.

“That was worse than cancer. That was pretty horrendous.

“November 18 was our surgery date, and the 19th, she died. That was the pits.”

Mrs White said the path people with cancer followed was often tarred with fear, but her own journey had formed into something with an entirely pure practical outlook.

“My journey with cancer hasn’t been scary, and I’m very lucky with that. For a lot of people, it’s terrifying and sad.

“I’m a person who gets on dealing with whatever is in front of me.”

She had a mammogram late last year, and 11 days later had a recall for a biopsy which confirmed she had cancer.

The doctor told her the surgery date to remove the cancer would be four to five weeks away, but she pushed to take anyone’s cancellation slot, and within about four days secured a date on the operating table.

Mrs White valued the time and care she got from staff at Dunedin Hospital so much she now planned to raise money for cancer research, and was giving much thought to becoming a cancer education advocate.

“[The doctor] said, as I went into theatre, he rubbed my arm and said, ‘You’re my record patient’, meaning he had never done a surgery four days after confirmation. That was very touching.

“What I found the day I went down for my biopsy was the most amazing care.

“We’re very lucky to have that level of care down south.”

She will shave her head today, supported by other women affected by cancer, known as the North Otago FUNtastic Red Hatters.

“I’m doing this to support people who don’t have choice. The people who have the treatment and lose it [their hair] . they don’t have a choice and that may be hellish.”