Runner Karen Bernard

Karen Bernard is speaking with me from a hospital bed. A couple of days prior, she had been cooking dinner when she accidentally punctured her hand with a knife. Within hours, her hand became so swollen and painful that she could not move it. She finally agreed to go to the emergency room to have her hand looked at by a doctor. Karen was told that there was an infection rapidly spreading up her arm. She would have to go into surgery immediately. As she was being wheeled into the operating room, she was told that there was a chance she might lose her hand, depending upon how extensive the infection appeared to be.

Karen woke up and learned that the doctor was able to save her hand, but she still needed to stay in the hospital for a couple more days. She had an incision that extended up her arm to allow the infected area to breathe. Karen returned for a second surgery the day after our conversation. Her medical team cleaned out her arm a second time. She would be headed home from the hospital within the next 24 hours.

Karen is still awaiting word to find out when she will be able to run again. Karen is part of the Project Purple Pioneer program, which allows runners to fundraise at any race of their choosing. Karen has signed up for a series of races as part of her ongoing efforts to raise money to help those affected by Pancreatic Cancer.  In just days, Karen is supposed to be running the Run to Remember half-marathon in Boston. She is currently awaiting clearance from her doctor.

Karen’s efforts to raise money for Pancreatic Cancer are not limited to one half-marathon, however. She wanted to raise money over the course of the year, so she has signed up for a variety of races ranging in distance from the 5k to the half-marathon. She recently completed a 10k and will be running another 10k in June, called the Road to the Rock. Karen has become a passionate advocate for Pancreatic Cancer research. Her mother, Noreen O’Keefe, was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer in February for 2015. The news was devastating to Karen and her entire family.

Karen and her parents.
Karen and her parents.

Noreen had experienced stomach pains that had been attributed to her gallbladder. When she went in for a diagnostic CT scan, the doctors saw immediately that she had a mass in her pancreas.  Her tumor had already spread throughout her body. Her official diagnosis is Stage IV Pancreatic cancer.

Noreen was started on chemotherapy right away. The plan was for her to undergo six chemotherapy treatments over nine weeks. However, Noreen became very sick from her treatments. She was extremely dehydrated and had to return to the hospital. She and her medical team made the decision to stop all treatments and bring in hospice care.

Karen describes her mother as a tiny little 5-foot-tall spitfire. She is an energetic woman who used to go to the pool every day and out for dinner every night. She has maintained her spirits throughout her diagnosis and treatment, and is the most positive and faithful person Karen has in her life. Noreen, the wife of a General Motors executive, raised five children. Karen remembers always having had a very close and loving relationship with her mother. “We have never had a fight,” Karen recalls.

Noreen O'Keefe
Noreen O’Keefe

Karen was devastated to learn of her mother’s diagnosis. She says, “This is the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with. My mom is my best friend and I am afraid I am losing her.” The worst part of being hospitalized for Karen is not knowing when she will be able to travel to Florida to spend more time with her mom. She and her siblings have been rotating weekends at Noreen’s house to help care for her. She wants to be with her mom as much as she possibly can during this time.

Karen with her siblings
Karen with her siblings

Karen has been running for approximately 16 years now. She had run on the track team as an adolescent, but stopped running altogether when she graduated from school. After the birth of her oldest child, she was looking for a way to regain fitness and lose weight. A friend encouraged her to start running, and helped coach her along the way. Karen ran the Boston marathon as her first marathon just two years beginning her adult running career. Karen has now run four marathons and several half-marathons.

Karen & her sons
Karen & her sons

Karen has previously run for other charity teams. This year, she met with Project Purple founder Dino Verrelli over the Boston Marathon weekend. She decided that she wanted to run for a cause that truly mattered to her. She explains, “I was researching for a way to give back and was thoroughly impressed with Project Purple. Raising money for a charity that I care about is a completely difference experience for me. Pancreatic Cancer is so close to my heart.”

karen & friend

Karen will continue to let her body heal in the coming days and weeks, but she will also continue to run to raise money and awareness for Pancreatic Cancer. For now, she desperately wants more time with her mother. Their family hopes that if Noreen can hang on long enough, perhaps they can get her into a clinical trial. As Noreen grows weaker, it is truly becoming a race against time for her and her family. Please support Karen’s fundraising efforts by donating at her Crowdrise page:

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