Philomath Woman Defies Rare Cancer Odds

Karen Walker, 70, of Philomath, was in overall good health — when life took a different turn eight years ago.

“It was time for my physical exam, which I have routinely each year,” Walker said. “Other than feeling more tired than usual and a headache that was a nuisance, but tolerable, I felt fine.”

Walker’s lab results showed concerning levels of creatinine, warranting a closer look at her kidney function.

Soon after, Walker was admitted to Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center, for a kidney biopsy, but had a full body X-ray instead, which indicated a bone marrow biopsy was needed. Walker was then diagnosed with an aggressive form of multiple myeloma. That diagnosis occurred in January 2015.

“When I received my diagnosis, I felt fortunate to have a medical background from the work I was doing at the time,” Walker said. “My knowledge — along with the treatment plan from my care team — reinforced the importance of facing my condition head on.”

Walker had treatment to improve her kidney function and underwent chemotherapy at Samaritan. This prepared her for a stem cell transplant at a partnering health care center. The outcome was successful, and Walker returned home 30 days later.

A few months after the stem cell transplant, a follow-up bone marrow biopsy indicated no cancer cells were present.

Leading a Full Life in Remission

“Karen, who had what we call high‑risk disease, has had no detectable sign of her cancer for the past eight years,” said Holly Almond, MSN, FNP, with the Samaritan Cancer Program. “We call this a complete response to treatment.”

Accepting that life now includes ongoing treatment tomkeep the cancer at bay hasn’t stopped Walker.

“My family means the world to me,” Walker said. “My husband Alan was there for each step of my treatment. Now being retired, I get to spend more time with him.”

Walker is also blessed with two daughters. Both are grown and married. Collectively they’ve given her four beautiful grandchildren.

“I also love sewing or quilting, spending time in the garden and the Exercising Together program through SamFit,” said Walker. “I credit Holly Almond for helping make the connection.”

Advice for Cancer Survivors

Now eight years into survivorship, Walker shares advice based on her experience she hopes others will find helpful.

Mind over Matter

“A cancer diagnosis affects each of us differently,” Walker said. “Even on my crummiest of days, I would try to remain pleasant and positive — because it’s what I knew I needed.”

Find a Way to Channel Your Thoughts

“After my stem cell transplant, a friend introduced me to CaringBridge. This is where I would journal daily,” Walker said. “It was a great way to keep family and friends informed, organize my thoughts, set goals, and now, is a resource to reflect on what I experienced.”

Be Comfortable With & Confident in Your Medical Team

“This is where you get your information and support. If you feel like you’re not getting what you need, then be assertive and your own best advocate,” Walker said.

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