When Karen Shayne finished her last chemotherapy treatment for cancer she was declared “in remission” and a “survivor.” She looked in the mirror and asked herself “What next?” She realized that surviving cancer has more impact on one’s life than simply returning to the way things were. Instead, there are many questions, we feel different and experiences are new again. There is a “new normal.”
Karen dealt with her questions and her “new normal” by participating in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life and began volunteering for the American Cancer Society beginning in 1998. She also formed her first non-profit organization for children, called Billy’s Wish, which created materials for children with cancer in 2001.
But Karen still sensed a need to help other women cancer survivors and envisioned the beginnings of Women Survivors Alliance with an annual convention to be held in Nashville. She went to work organizing the first-ever National Women’s Survivors Convention held in 2013 – bringing together 846 women from 49 states and 5 countries who had survived cancer with 112 cancer organizations from around the world.
The convention program was anything but conventional. It was designed to help women address issues related to their “new normal” – issues such as lingering or undetected side effects caused by chemotherapy, hot flashes, sexual dysfunction and significant self-image issues etc. It also provided an environment to empower and give a voice to the survivors who have been given a second chance in life to advocate for themselves and others.
“I volunteer my time with my non-profit – usually 12-16 hours a day – basically all the time – to manage all the working parts with survivors from around the globe. It’s hard work,” Karen says, “but when you realize you’re changing lives, it becomes the drive that keeps you going – even through the tough times. I volunteer to not just give back, but to honor,” she added.
“I was greatly influenced by my grandmother, Charlotte (Mama) Spivey. She was a remarkable women and my hero. Her hard work and philosophy of giving back were my models,” Karen said. “When I volunteer, somehow it makes me feel like I am honoring her life. My work keeps her alive in my heart.”
Karen is living her life with a new normal and is transforming survivorship from a mood to a movement by empowering, educating and connection women whose lives have been touched by cancer. And she’s hard at work on the next National Women’s Survivors Convention to be held at the Gaylord Opryland Convention Resort in Nashville July 31-August 2, 2014. For more information see www.survivorville.org.
Doing Good is proud to recognize Karen Shayne as Nashville’s Volunteer of the Month for February.
Join the Conversation: What cause has a personal meaning for you? What are you doing to honor the heroes in your life? What legacy do you want to leave?
Blog Written by: Karen E. Williams, a volunteer with Doing Good, an organization dedicated to promoting volunteerism. The website is www.DoingGood.tv. Nashville’s Volunteer of the Month is a free program which educates and inspires others to volunteer by sharing stories of local volunteers through media partners.