Karla Medkova: unexpected awakening
Karla Medkova never imagined that in the midst of a pandemic that shook the world, she would face a more ominous threat – breast cancer at age 34.
“I guess you could say it’s been a tough couple of years,” she said, somehow managing a bright smile. “We were in lockdown, the restaurant my husband and I both worked at kept closing, so he went and found a job in construction. And then the cancer diagnosis.”
By most accounts, this scenario sounds earth shattering.
But this young woman, who is not yet a year past diagnosis and has come through many months of gruelling treatment, isn’t shattered at all – she is impossibly whole.
The experience has awakened her.
“I don’t remember who I was before cancer. I know I was happy with my life, but I sure wasn’t making the most of it,” she said. “Now I do want to make the most of it. I have found a new me and I like her much better than the old me.”
Banner Day Gone Wrong
Karla learned she had an aggressive form of triple negative breast cancer on the same day she and her husband Jakub became Canadian citizens.
“It was supposed to be a happy day. We were planning to celebrate. We moved here from Czech Republic 10 years ago and we were so excited that on May 13, 2021 we were finally becoming Canadian citizens,” she said. Needless to say, cancer turned their joy to devastation.
The diagnosis was on a Thursday and Karla had surgery the following Wednesday. When the pathology report came back showing clear margins and no spread to lymph nodes, there was tremendous relief. Still, Karla opted for chemo and radiation. “I thought, I’m young, I have to throw everything they’ve got at this to give myself the best chance that it won’t come back.”
Karla has no family in Canada, but her restaurant family – Merchants in Marda Loop – raised funds to help the couple and offered kindness and support. Then, just as she was set to start chemo, her mom flew over from Czech Republic and stayed for two and half months, taking care of Karla during her toughest days of chemo. This allowed Jakub to keep his new job.
“I was so grateful for my mom being here, I don’t know what we would have done without her,” she said. “In those first two months of chemo I felt so horrible, I honestly thought it might have been easier if I had died.”
But with a change to the chemo drugs, and with the steadfast support of her mom and husband, she made it through six months of treatment and she is now halfway through the prescribed four weeks of radiation.
“My husband has been my absolute rock. He has been so strong for me. He cried with me when I was diagnosed and maybe throughout the chemo he cried too – in secret. But with me he has always been strong – he always keeps it together,” she said. “If I had to choose, I would choose me having cancer over Jakub having cancer. I can’t even imagine if it was the other way around. I would never want that for him.”
Upward with Wellspring
“I remember this very distinct point where I decided I have two options here. I can lay in bed feeling sorry for myself and crying all day, or I can get up, take care of myself, start living my life. So I did the second,” said Karla.
That’s when things started looking up. She found Wellspring online and joined an exercise class with other young adults living with cancer. She signed up for yoga, which is one of her long-time passions, and some art programs that stirred some new passions.
“I’m excited because I actually have hobbies now! I tried Creative Journaling and even though I’m not very creative I really like it! My journal is not perfect but it’s mine and I think it’s nice,” she said. “After that I started signing up for all the art programs I could at Wellspring … Watercolour, Open Art Studio … I love them all!” Karla also enjoys the Time to Talk program where she looks forward to sharing and listening to others who live in southern Alberta and who know what it is to have cancer.
Karla says she is often the youngest member in many programs she’s in, but she doesn’t mind – she finds comfort in the sense of community and comradery.
“The program leaders are great, the people are really nice, and I get to pass my days having fun!” she said, adding that it’s a saving grace that the programs and services are offered online since her husband takes the car they share to work during the day.
“I am so grateful for Wellspring – it has gotten me through cancer. I don’t know where I’d be without it. I tell everyone I can about Wellspring,” she said.
Forward with Hope
“I see things differently now. For example, I used to be a workaholic. In the restaurant business the more you work, the more money you make and I was crazy about making money! Now I don’t even think about money – there are so many more important things in life,” she said.
No doubt, health is at the top of her list, but beyond that there is this boundless expanse that Karla is choosing to fill with infinite optimism and hope.
“I know I still have a long way to go, but I’m so excited now for what’s ahead. I want it to be great. I want to make my life great!”
“There is always great things in the bad things. You just have to look for them.”
– Karla Medkova