Topics in This Section
- Ampullary Cancer
- Anorectal Cancer
- Anal Canal Carcinoma
- Carcinoid Cancer
- Colon Cancer
- Esophageal Cancer
- Gallbladder Cancer
- Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST)
- Liver Cancer (Bile Duct Cancer)
- Neuroendocrine Carcinoma
- Neuroendocrine Cancer of the Spleen
- Sister Mary Joseph's Lymph Node
- Small Bowel Cancer
- Stomach (Gastric) Cancer
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"If anyone had a crystal ball and told me that cancer would be in my future, I would have told them they were crazy,” Karen Kleger shared. Up until the spring of 2007 when Karen was diagnosed with cancer, she was an active, healthy, 38-year-old mother of three. “I had even carried and delivered my niece as a surrogate for my sister-in-law and her husband due to her health issues.”
Although Karen was fatigued much of the time, she thought nothing of it considering that her youngest child was only 5 months old. She recalled, “It wasn’t until I started having heavy rectal bleeding that I suspected anything was wrong.”
Karen went on the Internet and researched her symptoms, which she believed were due to internal hemorrhoids. After giving birth to 4 babies, it all made total sense to Karen, who kept the diagnosis to herself. A few months prior, in 2006, Hollywood actress Farrah Fawcett was diagnosed with anal cancer. Fawcett surprised many people when she went public with her diagnosis.
“I’ll never forget the day of my kid’s spring fair,” she admitted. “It had been raining so the fair was inside. I was so tired that I could barely keep my eyes open.” She leaned against the wall and then slid down it to sit for a while. When she got home, she rested for a while, but the stomach cramps became more and more intense. Following the advice of her primary care physician, Karen headed to her local emergency room.
“Everything just snowballed from there,” shared Karen, who was admitted to the hospital and was given a blood transfusion within a few hours. A series of gastrointestinal tests were run, along with a CT scan and colonoscopy to find the source of bleeding. Doctors detected a mass in her rectal area. A biopsy was taken which later proved to be cancer.
"We were fortunate enough to have Fox Chase Cancer Center so close in proximity."
“It didn’t take much effort in researching cancer care centers to realize that we were fortunate enough to have Fox Chase Cancer Center so close in proximity,” Karen added. Her husband, Adam, faxed over her reports immediately and she had an appointment to meet with her oncology team within a week.
During their first trip to Fox Chase, Karen and Adam met with her team of physicians – which included a surgical, medical and radiation oncologist.
“I had a great team of doctors who worked very well together."
"I had a great team of doctors who worked very well together," shared Karen, who especially adored Dr. Watson. Although Dr. Watson could have performed surgery on Karen, he explained that it would have likely resulted in an irreversible colostomy. "Because I was a young, active mom at the time, Dr. Watson suggested we try aggressive chemotherapy and radiation therapy first to determine if it could be effective," Karen said. "He was really attentive to my needs, which I really appreciate."
Although the treatment was hard on Karen, she underwent 3 months of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. "It worked! I did not need surgery," she explained. In the summer of 2012, Karen hit her "five-year-mark" and enjoys a great quality of life, which she attributes to Dr. Watson's expertise. She continues to do well (the primary tumor site is clear) and is followed through periodic check ups.
"I had a great experience at Fox Chase," recalled Karen. "The doctors were terrific. They didn’t need to sugarcoat anything." She admired the staff for their honesty and directness, while being sympathetic and sensitive to her circumstances. She added that her nurse practitioner, Ann Pellegrino, OCN, MSN, ANP-BC, was fabulous. "Ann and I became fast and furious friends!"
With three small children to care for during her treatment, Karen felt fortunate to have the resources to hire full time help. "We were also lucky to have the most wonderful family and circle of friends who stepped in to help with carpools, meals and homework," she explained.
"The social work department at Fox Chase was phenomenal."
To this day, Karen is eternally grateful to have had her mom with her during her cancer journey. Just as Karen's treatment concluded, her mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer, which eventually took her life. "The social work department at Fox Chase was phenomenal. They taught me how to talk to my children about cancer.”
Karen slowly resumed her normal life, "raising my amazing children," who were 8, 6 and 5 months old when she was diagnosed. In the fall of 2009, Karen returned to Temple Judaea to teach preschool. She took up her weight training and pilates to regain the muscle she lost during treatment.
In 2011, Karen's oldest daughter, Skyler, was named the Fox Chase Ambassador for Paws for the Cause, an annual dog-walk on the Fox Chase campus. "I was so proud of Skyler for her dedication to this project," Karen added.
"Cancer and loss of a loved one has given me a new perspective. I don't sweat the small stuff anymore."
People often asked Karen if she appreciates her family even more after cancer. She responds, "I have always appreciated my family. What has changed since a cancer diagnosis are my priorities. Cancer and loss of a loved one has given me a new perspective. I don't sweat the small stuff anymore."
Karen has routine check ups every few months. She admits that the scans cause anxiety, but is reassured by her doctors. "Dr. Watson will call me himself to share results. And the schedulers accommodate my busy schedule. Those are the things I love about Fox Chase!"