Karen Keehn says it’s easy to get jaded with continuous cancer-fundraisers, but she benefitted from a new treatment for breast cancer. (Leah Blain photo)

Shuswap woman grateful for innovative breast cancer treatment

Friends and Neighbours by Leah Blain

By Leah Blain

Friends and Neighbours

“It all helps,” says Karen Keehn as she puts a book on the table. “It’s very enlightening and to the point. It’s not negative; it tells what can happen.”

The book, The Intelligent Patient Guide to Breast Cancer, is written by a team of Canadian doctors.

Four years ago, when Karen went for a mammogram a cancerous cyst was found. Her first reaction was a mixture of shock and confirmation.

“It was like a 2 by 4 hit me on the top of the head and, by the same token, I knew something wasn’t right. Your body knows when there’s something wrong; you feel it.”

The cancer was small but very aggressive. She found out on a Thursday and, by the following Tuesday, Karen was in surgery. Everything went well and, as it turned out, her particular cancer qualified for an internal radiation treatment, brachytherapy. While the treatment has been used for prostate cancer for several years, it is fairly new to breast cancer treatment. So new in fact, an American medical news team asked if they could film the procedure of implanting the radiated seeds in the breast.

Read more: B.C. oncologist changing the face of breast cancer treatment

Read more: Fighting breast cancer

Read more: Mobile Mammograms coming to Salmon Arm

“It’s an awesome treatment. Not everyone can have it, I just happened to be lucky. I didn’t have to travel back and forth for treatment. The seeds are still there but they stopped radiating after six weeks.”

Karen has a big binder with all the paperwork concerning her cancer. She has another binder about another part of her life, the beginning.

“My name was Lynda Marion Corneille. I was called Lynn for many years but they changed my name to Karen Mary Lynne. I adopted out when I was about four years old. Back then the war was going on and I think it was a question of affordability; maybe they couldn’t feed me, I’m not sure. I have two sisters and a brother; they kept them and gave me away, I was the baby.”

She was the only child in her new family. They were strict but loving.

“I had music lessons, bikes, everything. I had good food, good care.”

Read more: Okanagan doctor warns against tanning as skin cancer rates rise

Read more: Update: Cancer society explains why Shuswap Relay for Life cancelled

They lived in Calgary for the next five years and then moved to Vancouver and eventually settled in Salmon Arm when Karen was 15.

“It was a culture shock coming from Vancouver to Salmon Arm,” she says laughing. The big thing social outing for teenagers was to drive around town, and pooling their change to fill the gas tank.”

Karen married Dwayne Keehn and they had two children, Vicky and Darcy. Dwayne worked at the mill and the family spent a lot of time outdoors, fishing, hiking and camping. Karen had various retail jobs including owning her own store, Fairies and Foxgloves, for a while. Everything changed dramatically when Dwayne had a heart attack at a young age. He passed away more than 20 years ago.

Karen is now a great-grandmother but she is still a familiar face downtown as she has been working at Shuswap Clothing for 12 years.

“Gerald (Forman) is the ideal employer,” says Karen, referring especially to his support during her cancer treatment. “He never fussed once when I was going for checkups and back and forth. He made it stress-free.”

As Karen has reconnected with her brother and sisters, she found they had a lot in common, even cancer.

“My brother and one of my sisters has had cancer. My brother has been cancer free for many years. I’m in remission and that’s the next best thing.”

Life has certainly been a series of twists and turns says Karen but she has learned an important lessen: “Know when to drop things and let them go and know when to pick them up. Have a positive attitude. It will get you down but get back up again. Life can still be beautiful.”


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