For most of us, a haircut is no big deal. But for Karen Short of Shearstown, a haircut in July was a milestone.
“This is not a wig, my man,” she says with a broad smile. “This is my hair.”
It’s a defiant statement from someone who has weathered several vicious storms in life, including cancer.
The first battle hit the Short family on Dec. 10, 2007.
That morning, Karen found her 15-year-old son Stephen on the bathroom floor, dead from cardiac arrest caused by a seizure.
On May 12, 2010, Karen’s doctor used the dreaded “C” word to tell her she had cancer of the womb.
On Nov. 3, 2010, Karen’s father, Jack Holmes, died from Binswanger’s disease, a form of dementia.
In an interview late last year, Karen reacted matter-of-factly, saying, “I just leave it all in God’s hands.”
Today, at 46, Karen is still upbeat.
“Only for faith, I don’t think I’d be where I am today,” she says.
“We’re still dealing with her cancer,” says her husband Vaden, 49, “but we’ve come a long way.”
After Karen’s final chemotherapy treatment in January of this year, she had a CT scan.
“The spots on my bones were the same or smaller, the tumour itself was shrinking, the lymph nodes were gone back to normal, and the spots on my lungs were gone,” she explained.
In May, though, Karen’s doctor detected a new spot on one of her lungs. Another CT scan, three months later, confirmed it.
Karen didn’t think to ask which lung was affected.
“No big deal, I thought. It didn’t make me feel any different than what I am now, because I’ve come through a lot,” she says.
Vaden echoes Karen’s sentiments, calling it “another blip on the radar.”
“It wasn’t big enough to be worrying about, so why worry over it?” he said philosophically.
Before her cancer diagnosis, Karen worked at the Pentecostal Senior Citizens Home in Clarke’s Beach. By June of this year she was pining to get back to work, but her doctor felt she needed additional time for her body to rebound.
In October, Karen assured her doctor she felt well enough to ease back to work.
Karen got the green light, and on Oct. 11 resumed working in the laundry department.
“Was I excited? Yeah, I had the uniform hung onto my closet door on Oct. 5.”
She said because she tires easily, “I listen to my body more so than my head, because your head wants you to do things, but your body doesn’t co-operate with you all the time.”
In June of last year, Karen had lost all her hair.
She jokes that by January, she “started getting a little bit of moss up there.”
In July, she had her first haircut since the onslaught of cancer and has enjoyed several since.
Karen attributes her ongoing recovery to personal will and determination.
Negativity affects one’s health, she said, whereas a “positive mind and determination gives you more of a purpose, a push to fight this.”
Rather than pulling Karen and Vaden apart, life’s storms have cemented their relationship.
“If you don’t stick together, that’s only going to make it worse,” Vaden says.
They both emphasize the importance of support from family and friends.
“If you got good people around you that are holding you up … that’s 95 per cent of the battle,” Vaden says. “We haven’t seen people pull away. It’s overwhelming.”
Karen says her mother, Eileen, is a “tower of strength.” Karen’s daughter, Stephanie and her husband Stephen, and their children Connor and Jesse, are there for Karen in many ways, she says, and Vaden’s family is no less supportive.
The Shorts’ faith sustains them as well.
Karen is a firm believer in the role of medicine and she’s an equally firm believer in the role of faith.
“I’m not giving medicine all the credit,” she says. “God’s the one who gave (doctors) the knowledge to know what to do.”
Though cancer is sometimes a death sentence, Karen refuses to accept that as a fait d’ accompli.
“When the doctor told me the (cancer was) incurable but treatable, I took ‘incurable’ to mean she couldn’t go in with a knife and take it all out.”
Karen wants to stay working and see her grandchildren “grow up, finish school, and do their thing.”
“So, between medicine and prayer,” she says, “I’m good to go.”