Racing Against Cancer

Karen DeMello

Cancer survivor Karen DeMello proudly displays her "sleeve" of tattoos during a recent session at UNC's Rocky Mountain Cancer Rehabilitation Institute. The tattoos symbolize her life since being diagnosed with cancer in 2007.

Photo by Barry LaPoint

Karen DeMello, a client at UNC's Rocky Mountain Cancer Rehabilitation Institute, is undergoing chemotherapy and isn't sure if she'll be able to walk in the institute's Race Against Cancer 5K run/walk fundraiser on July 4 but if she can't, she'll be there in spirit.

DeMello was already accustomed to adversity when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in April 2007.

Her mother passed away when DeMello was 12. While raising three young children as a single parent, she successfully recovered from hepatitis A in 1985 and meningitis in 1990. In 1997, her husband committed suicide.

So, it's not surprising that DeMello met the cancer diagnosis with the same steely resolve that helped her get through those other obstacles that life had thrown in her path.

During the complete hysterectomy to remove the ovarian tumors, what turned out to be cancerous tumors were discovered in her digestive tract.

Over the next three years, DeMello underwent multiple surgeries and countless chemotherapy sessions as doctors tried to keep the cancerous cells at bay.

DeMello supplemented the traditional treatments with a variety of alternative treatments that included electromagnetivity therapy, acupuncture and vitamins.

"I took a huge amount of initiative in treating my cancer," DeMello said. "I won't let my oncologist give me a prognosis. If I allow myself to think I'm dying, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Last year more tumors were discovered during a regular checkup. True to her nature, DeMello refused to accept the diagnosis that they were inoperable.

She started researching cancer treatment centers throughout the United States, settling on a center in Illinois known for its success using a relatively new process that combines heated chemotherapy of the abdominal cavity during surgery.

In January, surgeons at the center removed two sections of her colon during the 15-hour procedure, her 10th surgery since her original diagnosis in 2007. Her surgeon told her the minimum recovery period was 14 days. She was released in 10 days with no evidence of cancer.

She started an exercise and nutritional rehab program at the RMCRI soon after. She says she saw benefits from it right away.

"They tell me what can and can't safely do," she said. "It feels good to exercise and it's given me some of my strength back. When it's all done, I'm going to be buff!"

DeMello, who's lived in Greeley since 1975 and graduated from Greeley Central High School in 1978, is quick to point out that she hasn't fought her long and exhausting battle alone. She credits her significant other, Luc Renaud, family members and friends with providing support ranging from kind words to cooking meals to helping her keep her business open.

Those supporters and key events in her life are memorialized in the tattoos she sports. The "sleeve" of ink on her left arm, she said, symbolizes her life since being diagnosed with cancer.

And now, despite "something they found on my liver in a post-op scan in May that we'll keep our eye on," DeMello remains upbeat.

"There are few people like me who are surrounded by people who are good for them, who love their job like I do, who love their house like I do," she said. "I have a wonderful life."

About the Race Against Cancer
Staged on the route of the Greeley Stampede Independence Day Parade beginning at 7:15 a.m. on July 4, the 5K run/walk draws over 2,000 runners from across the country, with all proceeds benefiting the Rocky Mountain Cancer Rehabilitation Institute's programs. More information about the race

About the RMCRI
Part of UNC's College of Natural and Health Sciences, the RMCRI specializes in clinical services, clinical and basic research and education on cancer treatment-related symptoms, and is committed to improving the quality of life of cancer patients through prescriptive exercise rehabilitation. More information about the institute