Community rallies for 2000 LHS graduate
October 11, 2013 · Dave Morris
It all started in May of 2008, when Lisbon native Kara Clark started seeing double and her head felt as though she had a sinus infection.
She was 26 and working in Chicago for Unilever as assistant brand planning manager at the time. Over the course of two days, Kara, a 2000 Lisbon High School grad, found her life quickly changing.
Now the community is rallying for her with a "Kick it for Kara" fundraiser (see sidebar).
Kara went to an urgent care clinic, which sent her to an ophthalmologist, who determined her optic nerve was swollen. A call back from the ophthalmologist came with the news that he had made an appointment for her with a neurosurgeon at Rush University Medical Center. MRI scans showed a tumor covering a third of Kara's brain. The doctor thought it had been silently growing for three, maybe four, years.
After it was determined that the Rush doctor was not a part of her insurance plan, he referred her to a neurosurgeon at Loyola University Medical Center.
"My oldest sister, Lisa, who lives in the Chicago area, met me. We went to Loyola and met with the neurosurgeon. He had an absolutely great bedside manner," Kara said, adding that her mother, Julann, and sister Gina Krogmann of Mount Vernon, joined them.
After her doctor presented her case to the medical center's tumor board, it confirmed his diagnosis and plan for treatment. Surgery was scheduled for May 16.
Surgery began early in the morning. Over the course of the day, Kara didn't see her family for 12 hours.
Surgery was followed up by 30 days of radiation treatments administered over a six-week period.
"I was scared out of my mind," she said. "The one thing radiation did was make you super tired."
Kara was on disability leave from Unilever for 10 weeks, then started back to work part-time.
"My job and my manager were amazing," she added.
Her life returned to normal until a sweeping corporate overhaul at Unilever and her job was eliminated. After returning to Lisbon for a couple months, it was off to San Francisco, where she began a job with the corporate office of The Gap Inc.
She continued to get regular checks for any possible return of the cancer. As late as October of 2012, MRI scans performed in San Francisco looked fine, but on May 5 of this year, she had a followup appointment.
"Something didn't feel right," Kara said. "The doctor said there was new growth. Hearing that, I knew I needed to be near family. I made the tough decision to move back."
She moved back at the end of May, having resigned her job with The Gap Inc. She returned to the care of the team of doctors who knew her at Loyola.
A new tumor was found, and by the time of surgery on July 19 it was the size of a golf ball. Although it was smaller than the first, it was determined by doctors to be more aggressive. This time, the followup treatment has required both radiation and oral chemotherapy. Kara has four rounds of the latter to complete through January.
She will have another MRI soon to see how well the radiation worked.
"I feel I can read these scans now, too," she said, smiling. "I know more about brain tumors than I thought I ever would."
Kara described her feelings about the upcoming benefit, which she will attend, as "overwhelming. It's unbelievable. Living in this area is like a big family. I don't know how we're going to thank everybody. It's beyond appreciated. I'm overwhelmed, but in a good way - humbled."
She's looking forward to what's next in her life, but knows through experience she will need to gain strength and recover fully from her most recent surgery and treatment before taking the next step.
For now, she attends events involving her 11 nieces and nephews, and she's looking at volunteering at the Lisbon School.
"I'm very close to my classmates. Two from Colorado are coming back for the benefit," she said. Two others - Emily Krall Feldman and Phil Whitman - teach at Lisbon.
Through it all, Kara has remained a huge Hawkeye fan. Several former Hawkeye players are scheduled to be at the benefit, and she and her siblings all attended the University of Iowa.
"We all four bleed black and gold, but it's my brother Jeff (Clark of Lisbon) who is the reason I'm a football fan. He was a walk-on," she said.
As she recovers, a quotation attributed to Cayla Mills is never far from her mind: "You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have."
"I've been trying to live by that," Kara said.