A bit about me
My name is Karen Roberts Turner. I am from Washington, DC. I was diagnosed with stage four glioblastoma on December 14, 2011. Glioblastoma is one of the most aggressive and deadliest forms of brain cancer. So my diagnosis came with a very poor prognosis. The chance of surviving more than a year was very slim. I was devastated.
Symptoms and diagnosis
I was 47 and had no risk factors nor any symptoms of this disease. The only reason that I was diagnosed was while typing I made a lot of mistakes in my documents. It was strange because I was a good typist but all of a sudden I was making so many errors. I switched devices and even used different keyboards.
Then I realized that the mistakes were because my left hand wasn’t going to the letters that I was telling it to go to. I thought it was maybe carpal tunnel syndrome, which a lot of people have from doing repetitive activities with one hand. So I saw a neurologist who said that my exam was fairly normal. Still, he sent me for an MRI. And if he hadn’t done that MRI, I would not have known I had cancer.
My first reaction after knowing I had cancer was disbelief. I heard the doctors saying the words but the words wouldn’t go into my head. They were just surrounding me, and I just was in disbelief. I didn’t really process much at that first moment.
Everybody in my family were really shocked too because nothing would have suggested that this would have happened. There was no brain cancer in my family nor any risk factors. Also, the prognosis was poor. So it was hard for all of us.
Treatments underwent and challenges
I got the news about cancer at night and my doctor wanted me to have surgery the next day in the afternoon. So I had to make a decision quickly. He gave me time until the next morning. I wanted to talk to my family and other friends who had come to the hospital but everyone was too upset to talk. We had to work through a lot of the initial shock. I prayed a lot. I knew this was something that I had to do. So the next day, I agreed to have the surgery. It took a few hours for me to mentally prepare myself.
Following the surgery, I had 39 cycles of radiation treatment and ten sessions of chemotherapy over the following year in 2012. My last chemotherapy round was in December of 2012. I remember it because I got extremely sick and ended up in the emergency room. When I finished that, I didn’t have cancer treatment anymore. But, I continue to get periodic brain scans just to make sure there’s no recurrence. Ten years and three months later, I’m still cancer-free.
I changed my diet and became a vegetarian. After treatment I couldn’t really sit long enough to meditate or do yoga, so I chose prayer and music, and listen to a lot of music to remain calm. I try to maintain a healthier diet to help my body defend itself and heal.
Managing my emotional well being
I did a lot of prayers. I also listen to music like gospel music, classical music, and sometimes rap music, depending on my mood. It helps to ward off the negative feelings. I like to dance and do exercise. I have a gym membership. Staying active was one way that helped. I had gone back to work to get back to my routine, and also did a lot of activities with my daughter. I try to be as normal as I could to start recapturing life and started travelling and made some trips out of the country. So, I did things that made me happy.
Experience with the medical team
I didn’t like the first set of oncologists before surgery. They were just so depressing. You don’t want to go to a doctor that depresses you. You want to feel like they believe there’s hope. So those were the only doctors whom I didn’t really connect with. All of my other doctors were absolutely wonderful. The nurses who took care of me after I had my surgery were phenomenal. The neurologist who actually did the initial MRI that led to the diagnosis saved my life because I don’t think every neurologist would have gotten the MRI because of my fairly mild symptoms.
Future goals and plans
I have started working but I have ideas for writing more books and experiencing different things in life. I’m also very passionate about raising money for brain cancer awareness and research. So I’ve been involved with the Race for Hope in DC to raise money for the National Brain Tumour Society.
Message to cancer patients and caregivers
I think that caregivers are angels on Earth. I thank the caregivers because I know I could not have survived without them. One advice I would give is to stay strong and take care of yourself so that you can take care of us.
My advice to the survivors would be to not take their survival lightly. Give it meaning. Do something with the gift of another day you have. Laugh often and love generously. Tomorrow is not promised to anybody. Don’t waste your life or live with the fear of dying soon because you never know. They told me I was going to die soon but I’m still here. Just decide how you want to feel. If you want to be confident and want to live like tomorrow is guaranteed, then do it. But don’t lose sight of why you’re on this Earth.
I think awareness is important to eliminate stigmas and encourage funding for research or support groups. Cancer stigma doesn’t matter if awareness is spread for all cancers. There is a need for prevention, funding for cure, and treatment. Brain cancer affects a small percentage of patients but impacts them worse than any other type of cancer.