Karen's Story: I’ll keep on running

“Challenges are what makes life interesting, Overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” When I was 23 years old, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. The next decade was an incredibly painful struggle for me. My condition caused to experience extreme anemia, fatigue, pain, and weight loss. I would frequently be sent to the hospital for blood transfusions and experience the unpleasant effects of prednisone. I barely had the energy to get out of bed in the morning to go to work. Exercising was not an option.

It took me 10 years to get my disease under control thanks to finding a wonderful, insightful doctor. To my surprise and amazement, we were able to get the disease into remission, and my energy level returned.

I started walking due to the simple fact that I could. I loved being outside and the more I walked, the more healthy and powerful I felt. As my walks became longer in distance and faster in pace, I started entering races and to my surprise, did fairly well competing. I can say my life changed when I received information on an opportunity for walkers to participate in the Honolulu Marathon by soliciting donations for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s “Team in Training.” This would step up my challenge and be an opportunity for me to help in the fight against a cancer that has touched both family and friends. Over the course of training, I started jogging in order to shorten the training time. This led to mostly jogging the whole marathon – and I became hooked on running and addicted to doing marathons.

In my mind, I had this idea that the more I ran and kept active with physical activity, the ulcerative colitis would stay in remission. During this time, I was in excellent condition and qualified for the Boston Marathon twice. In 1999, I had my first surgery to remove a portion of my colon. Surgery was in February and thanks to being physically fit, I was back running eight weeks later.

In 2005, I had a big marathon schedule in the spring – Napa, Boston, West Virginia. Because I was training and looking forward to some wonderful marathon trips, I disregarded bleeding that I was experiencing, hoping it would go away. By the time I could no longer ignore the bleeding and finally sought the advice from my doctor, I discovered I had colorectal cancer.

Treatment included a permanent ileostomy, 12 rounds of chemotherapy over a six-month period, and 25 radiation treatments. I had no doubt that my mental strength and physical fitness would help me get through my treatment and beat the cancer. I never stopped training while undergoing my treatment – I was up walking laps around the hospital floor two days after my surgery! I was able to compete in my next marathon just 13 months after my initial cancer diagnosis.

I have now finished a total of 34 marathons and four ultra-marathons (50k). In 2008, I joined the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America’s Team Challenge , running the half marathon in San Antonio and raising $10,000 for CCFA.

In 2011, I co-founded a run/walk event with friend, fellow ostomate, and colorectal cancer survivor, Susan Snyder, called the American Cancer Society “Feet and Friends Fighting Colon Cancer”. Although this is currently a local event, in the past two years we have raised $100,000 for research, prevention, and awareness of colon cancers. Our goal for the future is to expend this event statewide, and eventually nationwide.

This past year, I was chosen as the Great Comebacks award winner for the central region. This wonderful program is to celebrate the courage, perseverance and commitment of people that have undergone ostomy surgery due to Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and colorectal cancer. Through this program, I have met several wonderful and amazing individuals who have not allowed their ostomies to hinder living life to the fullest.

And of course, I’ll keep on running!


A personal note from Jackie: I found Karen in a running group through facebook. As you may know I recently started running, and I was looking for a local group. When I mentioned Team Challenge Karen and I started talking and she told me that not only did she do Team Challenge but that she had UC and an ileostomy! Then when we started talking more she told me about all of the other AMAZING things she in involved in and accomplished. Since then Karen and I have chatted a few times and I can honestly say that this women is so fantastically inspiring! I love her will, and her drive to do more, run faster, work harder! I haven't met Karen yet, but shes only about 30 minutes away from my house and I hope one day to catch her at a race, or even just for coffee and learn more about this great women who is changing lives! The beauty of all of this is that I met Karen out of the blue on a facebook page, where I decided to tell a group of strangers about my colitis. Amazing things can happen when you tell your stories. Just think of all of the inspiring people who you have yet to meet!

And here is a video of all of the Great Combacks 2011 recipients!