When Karen was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the young age of 15, it began a devastating blur. Just before, she’d been an athletic high-schooler enjoying spending time with her friends and being a kid. Then, she noticed something hard in her stomach. When it didn’t go away, her mother took her to the doctor, who found cancer and placed Karen on an aggressive treatment plan of chemotherapy, radiation and surgeries.
Homeschooled for junior year because of her illness, Karen was finding herself lonelier and lonelier, soon facing a bone marrow transplant that would require her to be in isolation for a month. “I think back to where I was in that point in time—exhausted from all the different treatments and surgeries—and you’re in high school and your friends don’t understand. There isn’t really anyone to talk to,” she explains. “Now, I have to be in isolation, and I don’t even have much left in me.”
That’s when wish granters from the Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area chapter entered her life. When asked about her most heartfelt wish, Karen immediately knew she craved the companionship of a dog. She’d always wanted one, and now she would treasure the responsibility and the company more than ever. As she dreamed about her wish come true, she scoured the internet to find the papillon breeder from whom she hoped to get her dog. She printed pictures of papillons and pasted them all over her room. She collected dozens of training books. And she dreamed about life after cancer, her wish helping her through the process of the bone marrow transplant.
She thought to herself, “I have to get through this in order to have this dog that I now need to live for.”
When Karen finished her transplant and her wish came true, it was the start of an incredible journey with her new best friend. Her one-year-old dog Obi was “like a guardian angel.” Karen explains he was always by her side and was very understanding.
Soon, Karen was a college student, and Obi was at home with her mother. That’s when she got diagnosed with cancer again—this time breast cancer. She was just 21 years old and coping with critical illness for the second time. Once again, she had to be pulled out of school for chemotherapy, hormone treatments and surgery. This time, the emotions hit her harder than before.
“I started really feeling everything when I had to deal with it again a second time,” she explains. But, this time, she had Obi. “The second time around when I had cancer again, he would know when I wasn’t feeling well and just sit next to me.”
Karen is now 33 and 10 years cancer-free. Obi is no longer with us, but his memory lives on, as the constant in Karen’s life during an otherwise tumultuous time. Since then, Karen has had six more dogs, but none quite like Obi.
The experience so impacted Karen that she recently became a wish granter after moving to Hawaii. Perhaps her greatest strength is her empathy: her ability to realize the impact of a wish firsthand.
“I remember being sick and just being a kid and thinking, ‘I wish I could just stand and brush my teeth without having to sit down,’ those little things you take for granted,” she says. “That kind of perspective makes me see things. I knew there was some way I had to contribute back because my wish just meant so much.”
If you’d like to make a difference in the lives of wish keiki, click here to learn more about becoming a wish granter like Karen.