“I’m a wife, a mom, a sister, a grandmother and a friend.“
The old saying goes that life can change on a dime, and for Karen Caruso, it did just that. One week in July 2017, she was living life, enjoying family and friends, pursuing her passions with work and for ultra-running, and volunteering for BCSO at the county animal shelter. The following week, she received news that she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, commonly known as metastatic breast cancer. After a brief period of shock, surgery and completing radiation, something amazing happened. She realized that she was still living that same charmed life with wonderful people, had a great job, and still carried the passions for animals and running.
For those with stage 4 breast cancer, treatment doesn’t end, but instead continues until treatments no longer work or the side effects become intolerable.
“Even with a very serious diagnosis, there is plenty of life to be lived,” Caruso says. “I don’t want to miss out on life now fixated on what the future may bring.”
For several years now, Caruso has participated in various ultramarathon events, but after the diagnosis, she had to switch things up a bit.
“This year I opted for the 50K (31 miles), which took a lot of persuading to be cleared to participate by my radiology oncologist,” Caruso says. “We finally agreed that a gentle run/ walk sequence would be best. On May 19 of this year my daughter, Kimmie, and I completed The Keys100 50K from Big Pine Key to Key West and I’m proud to say we weren’t the last to finish.”
“When you have MBC, it’s not like the Tim McGraw song ‘Live like you were dying,’ not at all,” Caruso says. “I have no desire to go skydiving or rocky mountain climbing. My weeks are filled with going to work, going to church, planning for holidays and birthdays, along with doing laundry and dishes.”
Throughout Caruso’s 36-year career working at Health First as an RN CCM utilization review case manager, she diligently saved for retirement. When she was told the odds were not in her favor to make it to retirement, her financial planner made some suggestions.
“I was asked if there was some exotic trip I wanted to take or a sports car I wanted to buy, but my answer was no,” Caruso says. “I love spending time with family and friends. I’m a wife, a mom, a sister, a grandmother and a friend.”
Caruso belongs to an MBC group through “Driven by Heart” Breast Cancer Resource Center in Melbourne. The interaction with the ladies is not only helpful, but encouraging. “This is a great bunch of ladies,” Caruso says. “We are very upbeat considering our circumstances. A meeting doesn’t go by that we don’t laugh.”
Caruso prefers the term thriver rather than survivor. For those with MBC, survivor just sounds like plodding through each day trying to stay alive. “I like the term warrior because these women are courageous and relentless,” Caruso says.
“At the end of the day, I am thankful that my faith in God is bigger than my fears,” Caruso says. “I am grateful to be living a life of passion, purpose and hope, despite the uncertainties.” ◆