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Karen’s story: A grateful cancer patient fundraising for research

By February 3, 2022 July 14th, 2022 No Comments

Karen Humphries was 47 years old when she was diagnosed with gallbladder cancer.  

She was already living with a multisystemic rare connective tissue disease called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS) – a genetic condition that mainly affects the skin, bones, blood vessels, and many other organs and tissues – and had just undergone emergency cholecystectomy surgery to remove her gallbladder two weeks prior.  

Unlike some other cancers, there is no early detection testing for gallbladder cancer and other biliary cancers, so it was only when Karen’s gallbladder was removed that cancer cells were found.  

Karen and Professor Samra

“I had no idea that I could have had cancer during that hospital visit, but I am grateful that my GP was able to detect it and urgently get me admitted to Royal North Shore Hospital for treatment from a specialist,” says Karen.

During her time at Royal North Shore Hospital, Karen was taken care of by Professor Jas Samra, a hepatobiliary and pancreatic surgeon. Karen was also cared for by the Gastroenterology and Oncology teams and is grateful for the kindness and compassion shown to her by all the doctors, nurses and hospital staff across the North Shore Campus. 

Within the first few days of her admittance to hospital, Professor Samra ran further tests and scans on Karen and made the decision to admit her to emergency surgery. 

Professor Samra performed a two-part liver resection and removed Karen’s lymph nodes and appendix, less than a week after she had received her gallbladder cancer diagnosis. As a result, another cancer was found near Karen’s lymph nodes.  

“The oncologist told me that the cancer that was found in my lymph nodes would have travelled to my blood next,” says Karen. 

Karen in hospital with a plaque that reads, “She overcame everything that was meant to destroy her.”

“I am very fortunate that Professor Samra found the cancer when he did as it meant that I was able to start chemotherapy right away.” 

Unfortunately for Karen, she is no stranger to spending time in a hospital with her unique genetic condition, but this visit to treat her cancer was different to any other. She was so impressed by the exceptional and compassionate care she received from Professor Samra and his team and is incredibly thankful to them for going above and beyond to save her life.  

“Professor Samra and his team provide their patients with the utmost dignity and compassionate patient-centred care,” says Karen.  

“With a cancer like mine that is fast-growing and normally found too late, I was quickly treated and taken care of.” 

Having struggled to find doctors in Australia who could treat her rare and complex genetic condition, Professor Samra stepped in to find Karen a new multidisciplinary team that could manage her Ehlers Danlos Syndrome whilst she underwent chemotherapy.  

“I have been told that chemotherapy is bound to have great effects on my digestive tract, organs, joints and possibly worsen the osteopenia, so I am lucky that my condition will now be managed.” 

Although Karen is currently undergoing chemotherapy and treatment, she believes that having a support team of specialists makes life during treatment that little bit easier.

Eager to give back and show her gratitude for the care that she continues to receive from Professor Samra and the team at Royal North Shore Hospital since starting chemotherapy, Karen hopes to get back to studying, and finish off her post-graduate counselling degree and book about her experience as a cancer patient.  

Karen having a cuddle with her beloved dog

“I hope that once I qualify, I can volunteer to train doctors, nurses and other allied health professionals on what it is like to live with her genetic condition, coupled with chemotherapy,” says Karen.  

In the meantime, Karen is keeping herself busy by doing everything she can to make a difference to the lives of cancer patients, and has signed up to Costumes for Cancer, a NORTH Foundation community fundraising initiative.  

This February, Karen is fundraising to support life-changing cancer research and services happening within the Northern Sydney Local Health District. She has a goal of raising $5,000 to show her gratitude to Professor Samra and will be wearing sock puppet costumes to raise awareness of her story.  

If you would like to support Karen’s Costumes for Cancer fundraiser, please click here.   

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