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Feature Article

Retired Professor Embraces Her Journey With Cancer

Karen Shafer of Lincoln City was in breast cancer remission for three years when she found a new lump on her breast. 

For her, the waiting was the worst part. Waiting for a mammogram, waiting for an ultrasound, a biopsy, a pathology report, doctor appointments, genetic testing, surgery, healing and regaining the use of her arm. 

Because she has the BRCA2 genetic mutation, uncertainty in Shafer’s journey with cancer is unavoidable. But despite not knowing what the future holds, Shafer is able to focus on the good she has encountered along the way. 

After her first bout with cancer, Shafer signed up for a healthy food demonstration that served as a pilot for the coastal version of That’s My Farmer, a nutrition course created by Samaritan for cancer survivors. At the event she met several employees of the Samaritan Cancer Resource Center and learned about the services the center offers. When Shafer was again diagnosed with breast cancer, the research material available at the resource center became a way for her to channel the anxiety of waiting. 

A retired professor of communication, Shafer found comfort in researching breast cancer and potential treatment. As a result of her frequent visits to the resource center, she made friends with the employees there. These friendships have helped transform her cancer experience.

“When I walk through the door of the cancer center, I see people and wave; it feels like I’m not here because I’m sick but because I’m seeing friends,” said Shafer. “What I really, really appreciate is how dear these people are, and how they support me during my daily journey with cancer.”  

Shafer noticed swelling in her wrist two months after her mastectomy. A visit to the occupational therapist revealed she had lymphedema and would need an elastic sleeve and gauntlet to help control the swelling, which her insurance would not cover. Samaritan Cancer Resource Center was again able to help. Thanks to a grant from WISH (Women Investing in Samaritan Health), Shafer’s medical supplies were covered.

Shafer is making weekly trips to Corvallis for lymphedema therapy and the drive is taxing, but through it all she is filled with gratitude. 

“It doesn’t make any sense, but I am just filled with joyous thanksgiving,” she said. “I’m thankful to be alive. Thankful things were caught early, thankful for wonderful medical care and I’m just happy.”