the importance of hope: bewise & san diego science alliance welcome oncofertility survivor

A few weeks ago I spoke at the University of California San Diego Health Sciences and San Diego Science Alliance BE WiSE Education Program of the Oncofertility Consortium. Yes, that's a mouthful. In a nutshell, it's a highly competitive summer program for girls in 7th - 12th grade who are interested in science and engineering.

Dr. Hope introduced me to the woman who runs the program back in March, suggesting I may be a good fit to speak to the girls. A couple of emails back and forth, and we set a date for July.

In talking to the director and Dr. Igloo Cooler, we decided the most appropriate way for me to talk to them would be to simply tell my journey over the course of however long it took me to tell it. I dug right in and built a 147-slide, colorful, fully animated PowerPoint deck, complete with pictures of my insides and other anatomically correct stick figures.


Instead, on a warm summer evening I pulled up a tall chair in front of the 60 or so girls and their parents who came to hear me talk at UCSD Moores Cancer Center Auditorium, took a deep breath, smiled, and told my story.

Dr. Doug Sauders, an awesome Aussie, answers a student's question while I ask the girls to wave at the camera.

I began with the hike up PCOS Mountain, meandered around leaving Philly to move back to San Diego, the unexpected detour through Cancerville, teared up when talking about losing my uterus and the ability to carry my own childrenand even managed to throw in a vignette about being invited to the final space shuttle launch.

Did you know Space Shuttle Atlantis had only a 30% chance of taking off?

But it did. In glorious fashion, set beautifully against the Florida sky and against seemingly insurmountable odds, it did, only 3.1 miles away from where I was standing.

After the "serious" photo I made everyone do a silly face!
To finish my talk, I told the girls and their parents: no matter what life throws at you, whatever challenge comes your way, don't let anyone tell you you can't do something, or that you only have a slim chance of reaching your goals. Whether it's a 30% chance of getting into college, getting that job, or beating cancer: remember Atlantis.

They all asked thoughtful questions throughout the night, and afterwards I had the opportunity to speak to many of them individually. I let them know that after 3 battles in 11 years, I'm currently cancer-free and we're going through the surrogate process. There were many hugs, smiles and laughter. What bright, intelligent young women!

The next morning I received this email from the director:

"What a memorable and IMPORTANT evening you gave for us last night. The students from the Oncofertility program AND the parents were mesmerized by what and how you told your story. It is a life changing evening and this is not an exageration. To say, "Thank You" seems insignificant. "WOW!" seems to better express what you gave to us last night. I am not usually at a loss for words, but find myself in that position now."

After the talk during the informal meet and greet.
The girls also wrote thank you notes, which she compiled and sent me. I wasn't prepared for the outpouring of love and sweetness from these young girls, who are still so very wide eyed and not yet seasoned by what the world has in store for them. Who knows who they may become? The scientist who discovers the cure for cancer, or the next engineer who designs some biological transformation to change the course of science?

Their words brought tears to my eyes, while simultaneously making me smile with: "By the way, I apologize for my terrible handwriting and awful spelling. I do try to make my handwriting legible but sometimes the crazy takes over." And, "By the way, if I have spelled a lot of things wrong, I am sorry but I can’t spell for my life." How can you not love them?

Many thanks to Dr. Hope, Dr. Igloo Cooler, and the BEWiSE program for giving me the opportunity to spread the word about fertility issues, fertility preservation, and the importance of treating patients like people, not charts.

Oh, and those notes? The one who got to me most, who went straight to my heart, who I can't credit because she didn't sign her note, was this girl: "Kara has shown me that it’s important to have hope even if there is only a 30% chance."

Damn it, cue tears.


Babydreams2011 said…
AH-MAZING! You are SO much more awesome than you know.. :)
CaliforniaKara said…
Aww, thanks so much! The girls were a treat, and their parents asked so many good questions, too!

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