Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

A survivor's journey

WAKEFIELD - Karen Varian, of Wakefield, has always been an optimistic, energetic and ambitious woman, always on the move and ready to take on the next task.

She and her husband moved to the Wakefield area just over two years ago from Connecticut when the cost of living was becoming too much.

Varian's father was born in Wakefield, with lots of her relatives still in the area and she has grown up visiting here, so the decision to move was a relatively easy one.

Since moving here, she found a lump near the end of November, when she was doing a self-examination, which she had done on a regular basis.

Her friends and family on the East Coast wanted her to move back and find a doctor there, but Varian did some research and decided to stay here.

"I ended up going with Doctor Enrico Braucher, who I absolutely adore," Karen said.

She also saw oncologist Dr. Ather Mehboob, who took such care and time with Karen that she was glad she decided to stay here, versus going back to Connecticut.

She also had nothing but nice things to say about Dr. Donna Cataldo and the chemo department at Aspirus.

"I have had just the best experience up here with Aspirus and these doctors, I can't even tell you," she said.

The lump was a rather large tumor, 3 centimeters, but it was classified as a hormonal ductal and was contained so the doctors decided to do a lumpectomy, rather than a mastectomy.

"I was very lucky because it was a large tumor and it could have been a lot worse."

She then went through chemotherapy and radiation and is now on an anti-hormone medicine for five years.

"The chemo is one of the hardest parts. You really can't do anything and you get really tired," she said.

"I would end up lying around on the couch, which I never do."

Karen said she ended up watching more TV in the three months of her chemotherapy than she had watched in her entire life.

The chemo affected her memory and her focus, she said, which was a big deal for someone so extroverted and word-centric.

She called it "chemo brain."

"What happens is it just messes with your memory. You have a hard time recalling names or words. For me, I'm a word person, I love words, and nothing would come out."

Varian has a degree in English literature and once worked for the New York Times.

She continues to edit books for friends, but during chemo she was unable to, as the chemo prevented her from focusing.

She also said food lost its taste as the chemo killed her taste buds.

"Food just didn't taste good. The only way I can describe it is it tasted like old metal. The only thing that tasted good the whole time was fruits and vegetables."

She also lost her beautiful curly hair, which she said was tough.

"It's crazy - I'm not vain or anything, but losing my curly hair was kind of hard," Karen said.

Her hair is beginning to grow back now and it's curly, which she is happy about.

The support she received throughout her treatment has been overwhelming and she never would have been able to get through it all without it.

She said her husband was so concerned for her and would drive her every day down to Woodruff for six weeks while she was getting radiation.

"He's just done everything for me. He's cleaned the house, gone to get food, done some cooking for me. He's been wonderful," she said.

She has also found support from her cousins in the area and even from the ladies in the chemo department. They raised money for her even though Karen never asked.

"You need support. You definitely need to share with your closest people - friends, family, whoever you're close to or find a support group. Just someone to share with," she said.

"I have been lucky and this is when I am going to start crying, I have had such great support. My family has taken such good care of me."

She was also able to get through her treatment because of her positive attitude and high spirits.

"You really need to have a good attitude. Don't think the worst. I really truly believe in the power of positive thinking. That kind of sounds cliché, but it makes a big difference."

Varian said she considers herself as a glass half full person, so her optimism on life helped her tremendously.

"The craziest thing was that I never really got upset or I never felt like it wasn't going to be OK," she shared.

Her support and positive thinking has kept her moving forward through the entire journey.

She encourages other women to get their annual mammograms.

Because breast cancer doesn't run in her family and she considers herself healthy, Varian's last mammogram had been nearly 12 years previous to finding the lump.

"I've always been a healthy woman so I never went to the doctor and I never had any problems. So I just never went for a mammogram. Stupid me! And I'm not a stupid woman," she said.

"My advice to all women is get your mammograms. Even though they're uncomfortable and can be embarrassing, get your mammograms."


Editor's note: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This is one of a series of stories about women fighting breast cancer to be presented by the Daily Globe this month. If you'd like to share your story or have an idea for one, email managing editor Larry Holcombe at [email protected].

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