Help for Karen

There are so many worthwhile causes out there seeking help and here I come with one more. It begs the question, how do you choose who to give to, what makes one life or one cause worth more than another? And while I don't have the answer, I hope that you can find some way to connect with a plea to help my sister Karen.

A week before her 35th birthday, Karen was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. She hadn't told us about a growing lump on her left breast because she was afraid. Also, Karen has quite a high pain threshold so she probably didn’t think too much of it until the size of the lump and swelling couldn’t be ignored anymore. By the time she brought it to our attention, the lump on her left breast had grown so much and the cancer had already spread. Let me tell you a little bit more about my sister.

I was born and raised in the Philippines, the eldest of three daughters, and Karen is my middle sister. When she was born on the 26th of July 1979, she needed an urgent blood transfusion, which saved her life but left her hearing impaired, consequently affecting her speech. The speed of her physical development was also affected, she was able to walk later than her peers, but other than her hearing and speech impairment, she grew up like any other child.

Karen attended primary and secondary education at a school for children with various special needs. There, she learned sign language – this is how she communicates with her deaf friends, but with us her family, she lip-reads and tries her very hardest to speak, though with much difficulty and she is not always able to make herself understood. After secondary school, Karen did a 2-year college course in Computer Science alongside other hearing-impaired students, but after graduation in 1999, she found it difficult to find a job. In the Philippines, people with disabilities and special needs sadly do not have the same opportunities as others. While looking for work, she took up a short course in hotel and restaurant services to improve her chances of finding a job. In 2002, Karen did a short 3-month stint at a Philippine fast food chain as one of the service crew. I remember seeing her wipe tables one evening and my heart just broke because I knew that she would never get the same chances that myself and my youngest sister have been given. She applied for various jobs but to no avail. It’s sad that in countries like mine, people like Karen are not given a chance at independence, to earn their own money and stand on their own two feet, and be able to do what everyone else can.

I moved to the UK almost 9 years ago and my other sister stayed in Manila and found a job in radio. This left Karen at home with my parents but she sees this as her job, helping out at home – she takes all her chores very seriously and focuses all her energy in keeping their home tidy and clean.

As Karen's peers grew up, found jobs, got married, raised a family, Karen's life stood still in that she remains innocent and childlike, and enjoys the simplest joys of life – her favourite food (Philippine-style spaghetti, ice cream, hotdog, pizza), Korean TV series which she follows with a passion, reality TV, movie star gossip, catching up with her friends and posting daily updates on Facebook, she’s the first to like each and every post I make, making the most innocuous of comments. She loves her mobile phone. For her recent birthday, she was so happy at getting a simple hooded jacket. Imagine how excited she was when she received a new mobile phone last Christmas! She never fails to hug us and thank us for whatever we give or do for her. Karen doesn’t ask for much. Her life is not about material worth. She lives such a simple life, her happiness depending on the little things that we often take for granted.

When my mum rang me at work a couple of weeks ago to tell me that Karen had come to her about the pain and swelling in her breast and about the initial check up results with the doctor, I knew deep down it didn’t sound good. Then came the full diagnosis of stage 4 breast cancer, a shock and a huge blow to our family. Not to mention the toll it is taking on my parents who are no longer working and in their sixties/seventies and who are beside themselves with worry as they watch their small savings pot drain away with just the cost of tests to get to a full diagnosis and urgent radiation therapy to address Karen’s pain.

Anyone who has survived breast cancer or lost someone to it will know that at stage 4, breast cancer is sadly no longer curable. The chemotherapy that Karen needs will be for palliative purposes, to control the symptoms and spread of the disease, ease her pain, and prolong and give her quality of life. Karen also needs monthly bone injections because the disease has now spread to her bones. She is also currently undergoing radiation therapy for the excruciating pain in her back and hip. She has decreased mobility due to the pain and it is severely painful for her to get up from the bed or from sitting down.

What makes this even more emotionally difficult for us is that we have not yet told Karen about her condition. She can be highly emotional and is easily distressed and if we are unable to properly explain what is happening and the difficult road ahead of her in terms of treatment, we fear that she will take it hard and just give up. Karen can be very stubborn and unyielding when she sets her mind to something. We don’t know yet if we will ever be able to tell her at some point, but for now, she is unaware of the gravity of her situation.

At this point, all we want for Karen is for her to be as comfortable as possible, pain-free and be able to enjoy and do the little things that make her happy. We sincerely hope and pray that she responds well to chemotherapy and she can be with us for the longest possible time. We want to be able to give her lasting, happy memories during this time.

Having lived in the UK for a while now, I know how lucky people here are, to have a publicly funded health institution like the NHS that provides medical care and attention in times like this. However, countries like the Philippines do not have anything like this, so all of Karen’s medical costs will be borne by our family. The regimen that Karen needs, will cost a small fortune.

Any heartfelt donations will go a long way in this difficult time for us. Every donation, no matter how little, even say the price of a cup of coffee, will be very much appreciated, and will help towards Karen’s treatments and keeping her as comfortable as possible.

Thank you for reading my story. I know I have already asked a lot, but please would you also share this with as many people as possible, for Karen.

Tess De La Fuente
4th August 2014

p.s. For those who wish to make offline donations outside of, please feel free to email me or pm me on Facebook.  Thanks!

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Tess De La Fuente 
Benton, North East England, United Kingdom
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