Karen Kicking Cancer

For: Karen Davidson
Charlotte, NC
Organizer: Nick Highe
Karen Kicking Cancer (Karen Davidson)
$16,000
of $30,000 goal.
Raised by 228 donors
53% Complete
This fundraiser is closed. Thank you for your support!

The Story

***Please read 3rd update (July 8th, 2015)***

In July 2014, Karen, a single mother of a beautiful 2 year old, was hiking mountains. By the end of August, she could barely make it up the stairs in her home. She was inititally diagnosed with anemia, and told to take iron.

In early October the iron wasn't helping, and Karen couldn't walk into a store without needing to sit down. Teaching was becoming harder and harder. But worse of all, she could no longer pick up her son, Brycen. Keeping up with an almost 3 year old was becoming impossible. She was referred to a specialist. Within a week she was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer which has spread to her liver.

Karen is a genuine, honest person with a kind heart towards others. As a phenomenal mother, elementary school teacher for 13 years, photographer, and avid hiker/traveler, she deserves the chance of survival for many more years. 

We are asking for financial contributions not only for medical costs now and down the road, but also to help with the overall tremendous financial burden. We are trying to keep life as normal as possible for Brycen. Please consider donating for his sake!

Thank you in advance for donating and sharing this page!

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More about Karen:

Karen grew up in Binghamton, NY. She is a 1996 graduate of Chenango Valley Jr. -Sr. High School, and she graduated from SUNY Cortland in 2000 with a bachelors degree in elementary education. She also took many studio art classes while attending Cortland.

While attending high school and college she made many cherished life long friends working at the Burger King on Front Street in Binghamton. 

Also while attending college, Karen had the privilege to join Nu Sigma Chi sorority, where again she made amazing friends who can still be called upon for anything.

After working in Binghamton for a year, she moved to Rock Hill, South Carolina in 2001. There she tutored, substitute taught, waited tables at Sonny's barb-que and dreamed of living out west. She finally decided to wait on that dream, and in 2002 she moved to Charlotte, NC and began her career as a teacher for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. 

For the next six years, Karen worked at Irwin Ave Elementary as a kindergarten and first grade teacher. On weekends she continued to wait tables at Sonny's. During this time she fell in love with photography, the NC mountains and traveling. She visited many National Parks, or stayed closed to home and hiked Crowders  Mountain. 

During this time Karen also received her Masters in Reading Education from Appalachian State. 

In 2008, her wanderlust finally got the best of her and she moved to Anchorage, Alaska. She met wonderful people, had a great year teaching, took thousands of pictures and had many unbelievable adventures. But after a year she missed her family and friends too much and returned to Charlotte, and to Irwin, where she picked up right where she left off - teaching, traveling, and taking pictures.

Sadly, at the end of the 2010-2011 school year, Irwin Elementary closed. Karen was transferred to Billingsville Elementary, and later River Oaks Academy. Like everywhere else, Karen is more than happy to have made life long friends at these schools. 

At the end of 2011, Karen was delighted to give birth to a beautiful baby boy. Teaching Brycen her world would be her new normal, and although it was hard at first, he too has taken to being outdoors, photography and a love of reading. 

Karen hopes to continue to show Brycen camping, national parks and believes HE will be soon teaching HER a few things about photography. 

Fundraiser Updates

Posted on May 19, 2016

Posted on May 19, 2016

5-19-16

Written by Karen (not Nick)

What even is hospice care?

After I announced I was moving to hospice care I received many texts. Some read: 

“Are they treating you nice there?"

"How's the view?"

"How's the food?"

Yes, hospice can be a place. Supposedly here in Charlotte it's like checking into a 5 star lodge. If I get minimally sicker I might go there to repair. 

But most people choose to stay home. The day I left the oncologist office a case worker came to see me. Yes, same day! The next day a social worker came (she will also be coming to play/talk with Brycen) and by Friday a nurse was there. I also have a nurse's aide twice a week, and a cleaning lady once a week. I eventually will see a doctor, but my vitals are close to normal so they don't seem too rushed about that. 

By the next day I had a hospital bed with a bedside table here at home. Also, a brand new wheel chair - one I could recline in. By now I also have oxygen tanks and a special air mattress I could use if interested.

Their goal is to make dying as comfortable as possible. 

I have been out into the world maybe 5 times since moving to hospice care. So finding comfort here at home has been key. Another question I constantly receive: Are the people who come out to my house good to me? Yes. I think they have to be screened for niceness. They also will give me, or find a way to get me, pretty much anything I want or need. You have to be a good strong person to work in hospice care.

**********

So what do I do all day?

At first, I lived in a big old fog of meds and the shock of not fighting cancer anymore. But my days are starting to become routine. I wake up early to take my meds. Sometimes as early as 4m. Then I usually go back to sleep. Sometimes there is a small window for me to write or draw without falling asleep. When I do get too sleepy, its back to bed for me. Sometimes I sleep all morning. Somewhere around noon I have the hospice visitor of the day, and then I try to eat a tiny lunch. In the past 3 weeks my lunch sizes have gone from a pizza slice with fruit and a dessert to just 3 sips of ginger ale. It depends on how my back and stomach are feeling. Later my mom picks up Brycen from daycare or his other grandma drops him off. Brycen is disappointed I can’t get out of bed, but we usually make the most of it – suddenly my bed is the next best outlook patrol tower for his Paw Patrol dogs. Or we play a few rounds of Gold Fish. Brycen leaves after dinner and I have another brief window to write or scroll the internet or play online games. I am becoming less tired in the evening, but only if I slept well during the day and my meds haven’t sent me into a fog. My mom and have been watching seasons of Will and Grace on DVDs. I am usually asleep between 9 and 10. And that is my day, basically. Weekends are the same except I have more visitors.

I know a lot of people think since I am in hospice care, it means I could die any day now. I am sure that is true, but I have been trying to look at it based on how I feel. And today, at the moment anyway, I don’t feeling like dying.

What am I dealing with?

Jaundice. The bilirubin in my blood is going up as my liver function goes down. As it goes up, I look more and more like Big Bird.

Swollen organs in my abdomen. Not only is my liver engorged, so are my spleen, kidneys, gall bladder, whatever else is down there. It puts pressure on my bladder, stomach, on my stoma and on my back. I feel like I am 8 and a half months pregnant.

Severe back pain. What is going on with my right side of my back? Referred pain? Has cancer spread to my bones? Dealing with back pain and cramps is probably my biggest complaint.

I have started to have a few issues breathing too. This is not a daily issue but I now have oxygen tanks to help me make the air more comfortable to breath in.

So where do I go from here? I'm not sobbing every time I bleed anymore. (Yes, I am still bleeding, but like I said before, the gauze that has been sent to me has been wonderful.

What an experience that was. It was like I was a boat filled with holes. Every time we plugged a hole and had it perfect, another plug would pop. It got to the point where I was naming each rupture after the things I am missing because of them: 

  • a walk on the beach with my son. The kind where we dance in the waves and chase each other on sand. 
  • building that extra wow sand castle 
  • hiking and camping in the mountains with my son
  • driving . Oh how I do love to drive
  • being at the beach but not being able to take good pictures of the experience. 
  • t-ball games
  • start of pre-kindergarten 
  • smell of fresh cut grass, fall leaves, that snow smell
  • my independence
  • And finding that moment where I am completely at piece outdoors

(Warning, I am about to start writing a little about me here, not about hospice. If you get bored with my tangent, I totally understand. But when you’re in hospice and you still have the ability to use your brain, you have a lot of time to think).

People ask me where my favorite place is, and I've been thinking hard. Somewhere in Alaska? Max Patch Mountain? A beach on Emerald Isle? Asheville? The cottage on the St Lawrence River my family spent going to every year? No, but please go to these places and think of me. I have done a lot of thinking about these places because I will have my ashes scattered outdoors.  

I finally realized for me it's not a place, it's a moment. And it can happen anywhere. It happened in Charlotte less than 2 weeks ago. It's the moment when all the heat and humidity drop out of the air, and the air feels as fresh as fall apples. Temperatures that were hitting 80 might drop to the 40s like it did here, or even the thirties. One time in Montana the temps dropped from 101 degrees to 63 during one of the most electrical storms I had ever been through.

I say: "I want to camping!! This weather makes me want to be outside!" Ugh, my friend says, it's cold. And it is, but it's a fresh cold, and it's better than any high or drunk feeling ever. I want to gather my friends and dance in the woods and swim in the St. Lawrence River again until I'm purple from cold and wrinkled from exposure. It is my purest moment. This is what life should have been about. Yes, I believe in hard work, but not at the expense of stressing out the body so badly it catches diseases. 

A moment I could not wait to pass on to my son. I was hoping, (before the last week of March), to take him camping this summer. I was heart broken to have very few moments with him on the beach. I just hope he figures it out on his own. Get outside. Get into nature and get into it deep.

What does this all have to do with hospice and my death? Maybe I'm writing part of my eulogy?

Thanks for constantly checking in on me. I wish I could tell you how long I will be in hospice – people have straight up asked me. Obviously I am not on the 2 week plan.

Please share this update and give if you can (medical bills for ER visits and ambulance rides just kinda suck. Also, this new way of billing? Confusing.

I hope to have a major announcement this week! So excited.


Posted on May 15, 2016

Posted on May 15, 2016

This post is written by Karen. 

How I got here, Part 1

I am going to start on March 28th. After October 2014 I had cancer, but after the week of March 28th? Cancer had me. Sure, I had some horrid days in between, but nothing like what I am going through now. I wish I had the super power of looking into the future.

Monday, March 28th was a normal chemotherapy day. The Friday before I had spent walking and wheel-chairing the zoo. Over the weekend I went to my brother’s house, where he had hid a million eggs for Brycen and some other friends to find. So when I walked into the infusion room for treatment that day, I felt really good.

Tuesday, March 29th was also normal. I was bored. We went for a small car ride. I hated on my chemo pump.

Wednesday, March 30th was busy. I was detached from my pump. I had acupuncture at Levine, and then we hurried to pick up Brycen at daycare. We might have taken him to the park. I am sure I had an ice pack with me to try to keep my stoma from engorging and bleeding.

Thursday, March 31st started out early, I had to have something checked out at the dentist office. My mom and I talked about going shopping afterwards. I had woken up with a little blood in my pouch, which was irritating, but I wanted to get this appointment done. On the way I had a feeling my bleeding wasn’t finished. At the dentist I ran to the restroom, and my suspicions were true – I was bleeding hardcore. The dentist was very kind, his father had a colostomy bag for years, and he was not going to panic, especially when I said I didn’t yet want 911 called. And even though I bled all over his bathroom. I layed down on a dental chair and we easily got the bleeding to stop – probably with a woman’s maxi pad. He even check my concerning tooth while I layed there. (It was nothing). Back at home I relaxed on my back and most of the bleeding stopped.

Until the next day. I never would have thought a drive to the dentist office in South Charlotte would be my last drive (my mom drove home). I woke up early that Friday – about 5am and blood started racing out. There is bleeding we can control, and there is bleeding we can’t – and this was one for a trip to the ER. We called an ambulance. At the hospital I was introduced to “silver nitrate” to cut off bleeding. We assumed the drug Avastan had built up so high in my blood that it was stopping my blood to clot. I was taking Avastan to help “direct” the chemo to my liver. Without it, the chemo is basically useless.

The silver nitrate, which causes a temporary chemical burn, worked through the weekend. But as it sloughed off, new bleeding occurred. Monday night I was rushed to the ER via ambulance again. I was introduced to a wonderful gauze called surgicel. I was given a stitch. I was sent home with new hope.

On Wednesday afternoon I walked into the ER. On, Friday April 8th I was rushed to ER. I was basically told the same thing: Use the silver nitrate and the special gauze and hopefully the bleeding will slow as Avastan left the body. The hard thing was the gauze and the nitrate both ripped up skin from the stoma. Remember, the stoma is soft skin, a lot like gums. At the time we still thought this was the only cause of my bleeding.

On Monday, April 11th I was sick and tired of being in bed. I went to the surgeon who put in my stoma and ostomy in the first place. His belief was my wafers were too small. A wafer is an appliance that sticks to my skin, and then the pouches stick to it like a rubbermaid container. The too small wafer was causing blood to pool around my stoma. He helped us order larger pouches, and a nurse to come to my house to check my stoma a couple times a week.

Meanwhile it had been 2 weeks without Avastan, and the blood flow wasn’t slowing down. No way could I ever take that drug again. But then my chemo would be ineffective. I started to talk to people closest with me: What if I chose to end treatment?

After the surgeon’s office visit I once again I left with hope. For about 48 hours I had no bleeding. We were counting down the days to a beach trip. And I was going on that trip no matter what.

Then on Thursday my damn stoma erupted again. I was laying on my back when it happened. This was the first time it bled literally like a geyser without my moving around or using the bathroom. Damn. Every time I had a setback, I sobbed and sobbed.

Still, we made it to the beach. With Brycen. I won’t go into all the details. The trip was not what I wanted or expected, but looking back everyone had fun. I am endlessly grateful to my cousin Diane, who came with us, and helped us not only with Brycen, but with me too. There were 5 ER visits that week. The 5th one, the night before we were suppose to leave, left me admitted to the hospital for 5 days. I needed 3 blood transfusions. Then they started to tell me I needed my gall bladder removed (thank goodness that didn’t happen). We were all worried about my ride back to Charlotte, but it actually turned out pleasant.

But we learned a few things from my hospital visit on the coast:

  1. I most likely was NOT bleeding because of Avastan, although it wasn’t helping matters at all.
  2. I am bleeding because of condition called Portal Hypertension. Basically blood isn’t flowing back through my liver, it’s being rejected and needs a place to escape. Google it if you want more info. It is rare. I don’t know why I have it.
  3. Combat Gauze is the best way to end my bleeding. THANK YOU EVERYONE WHO SENT ME Combat Gauze or something like it!! My mom, my AWESOME mom, packs the wound with the gauze, puts a pad over it and we keep it all together with an abdominal binder (think: spanx. Or a girdle.)

I returned to Charlotte Tuesday the 26th.

On Wednesday I had my final appointment at the oncologist office. I already knew I couldn’t go on with treatments, like I said before. But I was expecting, truth be told, to run through some options, like we had before. But the problem was those other options are quite new, not showing a lot of promise, and have a lot of negative side effects. So BAM, just like that we discontinued treatments. I said goodbye to my infusion nurses who have been with me for 18 months.

And I moved to hospice care.

Wait, what?

Thank you to everyone who read this far! I know, a lot of boring technical details. Covering a whole month is HARD. Probably the most important part is what I learned at the coastal hospital. I will be back soon with part 2. 

Posted on July 8, 2015

Posted on July 8, 2015

Written by Karen

Last Wednesday (July 1st) I went to the hospital for my second TACE procedure. TACE stands for Trans-Arterial Chemo Embolization. I had my first procedure in May. I unfortunately bruised after first procedure, and took a while to heal. By the time July rolled around, I was well healed from bruise . . . but I knew something was very wrong. My urine was the color of orange tang and my back ached. I had knots in my back that spasmed. I had lower back pain. I just could not get comfortable. 

So I wasn't 100 percent surprised when my radiologist told me last week that my bilirubin numbers were too high to perform and surgery or procedures where medicine is processed into liver. Bilirubin indicates the beginning of liver failure. It also makes some patients jaundiced (they turn yellow or even orange in extreme cases).

They ordered a CT scan and by Tuesday morning (yesterday) we were listening to how bad it has gotten. Mainly my liver tumors are significantly bigger but I also have spreading to lungs. 

At this point we are changing my plan to keep me as comfortable as possible:

1. Tomorrow I am having liquid drained from abdomen, since everything is so tight there.
2. On Monday I am starting a chemo that is processed by kidneys and not by liver - so I can handle it. THIS IS NOT INTENDED TO BE A MIRACLE CURE. We are hoping for more time and more comfort.
3. Hospice

I talked to a colon/liver specialist today, and no, there is not a clinical trial suitable for me. 

At this point this donor's page will be used mostly for Bucket List items. I am not sure what those items will look like, because it depends on how I feel in next few weeks. Having said that, if you would like to help Brycen (my 3 year old son) and I do things like get to the beach, we would love your help.

Also please feel free to share my story.  

Love, Karen

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