Karen Campbell: Calm Heart, Warrior Spirit

Karen Campbell has spent most of her life going with the flow and tapping into her expressive nature to find language for her unique experiences along the way.

But in 2014, toward the end of her 30-year career working for Parks Canada, primarily in Waterton Park, Karen’s path took an inexplicable turn.

“I had just moved to a small town in southern Alberta to start a new job, but I had this terrible persistent cough and I just felt awful. I knew something was wrong, but for some reason, my body didn’t present the problem well,” she said.

In the months that followed, Karen had a battery of tests, X-rays, scopes, and scans, and while she was treated for pneumonia and other possible ailments, nothing made her well, and tests informed only that she had abnormal cells.

Karen out for a walk.

“I kept working but I was so sick. All I wished for was any diagnosis so we could move forward with treatment. Waiting is so hard – you just want answers so you know what you’re dealing with,” she said.

Karen's walking mate, Tykan, on a riverbed.

More than nine months later, after a challenging lung biopsy, and a biopsy of a lump on her neck, Karen was diagnosed with Lymphomatoid Granulomatosis – a rare form of lymphoma. The first line of treatment offered was Interferon, delivered through a subcutaneous injection in the belly. “I immediately went downhill so they had to stop this treatment. I had gone from 130 pounds to somewhere around 90 pounds,” she said.

Her parents, who live in BC and were nearly 80 at the time, came to stay and take care of her, both in her Lethbridge home, and later in required housing in Calgary, where she came for a bone marrow transplant.

In the fall of 2015, Karen learned she was a candidate for stem cell transplant. She spent that Christmas with her brother in Calgary and went into hospital on December 30 to begin the procedure. After two harrowing stints in hospital, and with new cells to sustain her, she began the long process of rebuilding her immune system.

The Wellspring Connection

In 2016, Karen discovered Wellspring Calgary and began taking programs. “I was actually told about Wellspring the same day I was told I had this rare lymphoma, but at that moment there was no room for that in my world. It was all I could do just to understand what was happening,” she said.

A few months later, she was back in Calgary for radiation and was delighted to find a Wellspring community just down the hill from the hospital.  

“It was perfect. I was seeking ways to keep some of the important healthy practices in my life and Wellspring provided this means in a way that was effortless and helpful. I participated in yoga, the sound bath was remarkable, meditation and visualization. I received Reiki, and the Money Matters program was amazing! All this was free – all I had to do was sign up and show up!

“I told everyone I could about Wellspring. I met a woman and her sister in the waiting room for radiation and I told them about Wellspring. I said even if you don’t take a program, you can just go, make a cup of tea and sit in the beautiful spaces. You can take your caregiver or go alone. You can talk or be silent. You can participate or not. I found out later, they went to Wellspring that day!”

Karen tells the story about showing up at Wellspring for a Reiki treatment and finding a serendipitous surprise.

“I walked in the door and announced myself and suddenly I’m being embraced … I’m being held so tightly by this tall woman, whose face I couldn’t see, but she’s saying ‘Karen, Karen, how are you?’ Here it was an old friend I had gone to college with – I was maid of honour at her wedding. We hadn’t seen each other in years and here she was volunteering at Wellspring. Isn’t that something? It was just so great!” she shares.

Back in Lethbridge in 2018 and 2019, Karen was almost back to herself, reengaging with friends and returning to walking, biking, yoga and meditation. When the pandemic hit, she found Wellspring online and was able to safely join her community in her favourite programs once again, this time without leaving home.

Karen hiking when her health was prosperous.

Setback Eclipsed by Optimism

Then in late 2020, Karen’s blood counts started going down. “I was diagnosed with MDS – a type of bone marrow cancer. There is a 1% chance of getting this – a side effect from the stem cell transplant,” she said. “It is likely this will lead to acute myeloid leukemia – and there is no cure for that. So far though, it’s not progressing too quickly, doctors are amazed,” she adds.

Although this is a major setback, Karen is not sitting back waiting for the inevitable – she has things to do.

“I garden when I can, and I do a bit of hiking. I recently got a dog and we walk a lot. I am trained as a visual artist so I do some of that. I enjoy Wellspring online, including iRest Yoga Nidra, Meditative Breathwork, Supportive Conversations, the Healing Journey program, and some speaker events,” she adds.

And when it comes to Wellspring extending its reach into communities across southern Alberta, Karen is an enthusiastic proponent; participating in programs piloted specifically in her area, and helping spread the Wellspring word.

” I love that the Wellspring spirit is blossoming in our area. Last spring, after the Next Steps program wrapped up, I invited all the people from that group to keep on meeting on Zoom every other week. We did that all summer. There is also a walking group here whose participants met through Wellspring – ‘The Lethbridge Go-Getters.’ It started with four people, and one week, eight of us showed up,” she said.

As the seasons change, Karen harkens back to her practice of looking forward and going with the flow.

“My lung specialist calls me ‘miracle woman.’ Even though I have extensively damaged lungs – I can still do quite a bit,” she said. “For me, I don’t put energy toward fighting and antagonizing over the things I can’t change in my path. I’ve had wonderful doctors, excellent treatment, and though it hasn’t been easy, now what’s required of me is to use my tools … do my best to live life to the fullest.”

“Wellspring is a classic builder of community and connection. It offers a different kind of energy and way of being. People understand … they can relate. I’ve met people who have been through what I have been through – even one who had a stem cell transplant – she knows the intensity of this procedure. I love that we have this support and I look forward to having a place where we can drop in.”

– Karen Campbell

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10 Comments

  1. Oh Karen, thank you so much for sharing your journey. Having had Acute Myeloid Leukaemia twice and a bone marrow transplant I can relate. You inspire me and will inspire many other people. I’ll see you again at our next walk.

    • Thank you Val! You are inspiring too, and YES, see you at our next walk.

  2. A great article about my long-time friend Karen who is indeed a resilient survivor as well as a wonderful gardner, a creative artist and my river- walking companion. I hope she continues making progress on her healing journey and continues to be the “miracle woman” !! Judy

  3. Thank you Judy! Here’s to many many more river walks and journey’s!! love Karen

  4. Hi Karen I believe I have seen you on the breath work zoom. Keep being as positive as possible and who knows. I actually just talked with a lady I know today and her husband has had stem cell done. Brenda

    • thanks Brenda – many people have stem cell (bone marrow) transplants. it is remarkable. it seems to be very successful, including me. Risk is hard to measure! Actually in the beginning it as a very easy decision. To do another … not so easy! Tho’ some do. You are so very right the possibilities are immeasurable! Thanks for reaching out & “see” you in class soon.

  5. What an inspiring story you have shared, Karen! You are doing so well in tapping into your abilities and positive ness. You are a wonderful Ambassador for Wellspring too. Keep spreading the word.

  6. Karen it is so wonderful to read your entire inspiring journey. You will help so many with your message of hope! I am so proud of your connection with Wellspring!! Love and hugs
    “The tall lady volunteer at Wellspring” what a truly amazing day that was, still volunteering.
    Alma

    • it was amazing – and so wonderful – along with all that follows

    • so glad you are still volunteering – Wellspring is a winner (in so many ways)!! Big Hugs!!!


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