Carin' for Karen

Karen tells us how crappy chemo is, and we tell her how uncrappy she is.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


January 19, 1954 - December 13, 2007 (on earth)

Thank you, mom.
Karen B. Aldrich, whose faith and love impacted all those who came to know her, beloved wife and mother of four, died from advanced breast cancer Thursday surrounded by her family in her home in Wilson. She was 53.

Karen originally was an elementary teacher and her patient, guiding kindness and faith continued as she raised four loving children and was treasured by countless others.

Karen Burnham was born in Elmira, New York on January 19, 1954. She was the second of five children born to Robert and Valera Burnham. Her father served in the Second World War, and then returned to work as a fireman. Her mother had a love of learning and volunteered for many years as a librarian.

At Thomas Alva Edison High school, her love of music, vocal talent, and engaging personality naturally led her to perform in musicals - songs which she continued to sing throughout her life - cheerleading, and to form deep, lasting friendships. Family gatherings frequently included uproarious tales of famous antics involving her and close friend Ellen McCaulley.

Karen and her mother, while trying to find SUNY-Cobleskill, joked that a herd of cows in a field must be it and soon realized they were correct. Before graduating with a degree in early childhood education, her time in Cobleskill led her to meet Dan Aldrich at a Christmas party while he was home from college. She ensured he studied; he ensured she married him in 1974. She agreed on the condition he support her continuing education.

What she considered her life's work began in 1977 with the birth of their first child, Elizabeth. Mark, Abigail, and Matthew followed. Her children profess her parenting as "faith, hope, and love – but the greatest of these is love."

Her devotion to her children and her belief in the importance of education led her to begin homeschooling at a time while it was still controversial. As the family moved to Wilson, she was a leader in the Wilson Area Home Educators and regularly calmly helped parents deal with stressful situations. She spent 14 years homeschooling one or more of her children. While passionate about quality children's education, she believed true learning continues throughout life and beyond. She believed a well-rounded education includes arts, sciences, biblical studies and requires service.

Despite her many duties as a full-time wife and mother, and as a frequent volunteer, she returned to school in 1993 at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, taking classes as she could fit them in. In 1999 she achieved a life long goal, earning her Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies. She continued studying at Southeastern, and in 2005 earned a Masters of Divinity, attending full-time even while undergoing chemotherapy during her final semesters.

The family attends Raleigh Road Baptist Church, where Karen was an integral member. She was heavily active in youth and children's ministries, several times organizing Vacation Bible School and serving as a Sunday School teacher. She had a heart for missions and went on many mission trips including trips to New Hampshire, Miami, Brazil, and Southeast Asia. She served as a prayer partner for several missionaries and even spent a time showering with cold water when she learned that a missionary friend had only cold water. Despite her physical infirmities, she continued steadfastly, presently serving as head of the Women's Ministry.

She documented many of her highs and lows of diagnosis and treatment online here and people from around the world sent messages of gratitude and thanks for her words of hope and faith. She was active in the local cancer support group and speaker at the Relay for Life Survivors Banquet in 2006 where she spoke on Learning, Loving, Laughing, and the Lord. She regularly spoke to people known and unknown upon their own diagnoses, sharing wisdom, hope and love. Throughout her treatment, she did not complain; instead she radiated joy - demonstrating unbelievable courage - and was eternally hopeful to the end. She reassured her loved ones by saying "The worst case scenario is that I go to heaven."

Her radiant loving smile, vibrant adventurous spirit, genuine concern for all, and easy laugh endeared her to many; and she was loved by everyone who knew her. Many around the globe considered her a friend who stuck closer than a sister. She was known for her enthusiasm, encouragement, and embodiment of the fruit of the Spirit.

The family will receive friends today from 1-4 pm at Raleigh Road Baptist Church, 4105 Raleigh Road, Wilson, NC 27893. Funeral services will be held there as well today at 7 pm. Flowers are welcome, also memorials to the RRBC building fund would be appreciated.

She is survived by her husband, W. Daniel Aldrich of Wilson, NC; two daughters, Elizabeth Aldrich, of Wilson, NC and Abigail Korfmann and husband Christopher of Lynchburg, VA; two sons, Mark Aldrich of Wilson, NC and Matthew Aldrich and fiancée Joy Barefoot of Wilson, NC; parents, Robert and Valera Burnham of Elmira Heights, NY; two sisters, Susan Bailey of Elmira, NY and Janice Herrity of Newport News, VA; one brother, Robert Burnham Jr. of Elmira Heights, NY; and one grandchild, as yet unborn.

Arrangements are by Joyner's Funeral Home, 4100 Raleigh Road Parkway, Wilson.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


I am sorry that it's been this long since I last updated my blog. Much has happened since December, but I just didn't have the inspiration to write about it all. I was taken off the Lapatinib/Tycerb study at Duke at the end of March when it was discovered that the tumors in my liver had grown beyond the limits in the clinical trial. I was very sick. In fact I was hospitalized for two days. It took a while to figure out what all my problems were since there were many that were interrelated. Since then I have learned that I was severely dehydrated in addition to the tumors multiplying in my liver. For over a month now I have worked at drinking 64 oz. of fluid each day and started a new chemotherapy.

This week I got good news from my cardiologist that my heart is returning to normal function. The dehydration caused my heart to race when I did the simplest exertion. I am very grateful that I can now return to doing normal activities such as walking and talking without loosing my breath and making my heart go into adrenaline mode. This is part of the reason that I haven't written in this blog. If I took 8 steps or did even the simplest things I would get out of breath and feel like my heart was going to beat out of my chest. When I went to a cardiologist, he figured out that my blood just didn't have enough fluid it to pump my heart. I knew I was probably dehydrated because the Lapatinib gave me severe diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. I know this isn't a pretty picture, but it's what has been going on. In fact the reason I was hospitalized was because they couldn't find my blood pressure.

Anyway, the latest news is that this week I learned that my heart is in good shape, my CT scan showed that there has been some shrinking of the tumors, and I am going to continue this new chemotherapy.

The bottom line is that I haven't given up hope. I am planning to walk down the aisle in about two weeks for my daughter's wedding and I going to continue to celebrate being alive each day the Lord gives me. Thank you for checking in with me. I'll try to post updates more often.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Pressing On

The last time I wrote was over a month ago. I know many of you have been wondering what has been going on so I will attempt to fill you in. I had the various tests, but hadn't let you know what the results were. Well, they weren't great. The cancer had grown which indicated that the chemo wasn't effective. Because of this, I went back to Duke University hospital for their input. They are conducting a research study of a new breast cancer drug which I had been hoping to take part in, but wasn't allowed to take part in, until last month. I am now part of the clinical trial for the drug, Lapatinib or Tycerb. (It is known by both names.) I had been reading about the drug's benefits for quite a while, so when it worked out that I could be part of the study, I was really grateful.

I have been taking the drug for over a month now and early indications seem to imply that the cancer is responding. I have not had an easy time of it though. The side-effects are daily nausea, diarrhea, and sometimes vomiting. I am not sure if all these difficulties are caused exclusively by the Lapatinib or because of the ulcers and related problems. I suspect it is a little of both, but this is why I haven’t felt up to writing. I have spent a lot of time just dealing with being sick and trying to get a handle on the pain.

I have one week left before I go through another series of tests. Because I am part of the clinical trial, these tests (CT scans, bone scans, blood work etc) are required. It takes most of the day and I often come home tired, weak, and sick, but it’s all part of keeping a record of how the cancer is responding to treatment. So I press on.

I guess that is the answer to the question that everyone keeps asking me. “How are you doing?” I am pressing on. I refuse to give up no matter how sick I feel or how hard the road gets. As long as I keep pressing on, I have hope. Each day is a new gift from God. Each new day He gives me to live is a day which the Lord has made so I will rejoice and be glad in it. Sometimes I have to be reminded of this truth, but when I do remember it, I am strengthened.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


This is a week of testing. I had a PET scan on Monday, am going to have a CT and Muga test today, an endoscopy on Wednesday and a midterm in my philosophy class on Thursday. The medical tests are to help determine what is going on in my body. The peptic ulcers have continued to give me problems and I started a new chemotherapy about 5 weeks ago. The tests should help the doctors see if the cancer is responding to the chemo and if the ulcers have been improving. The philosophy midterm is an apologetics class I started taking toward my next degree. I am really enjoying the class and it is therapy for me.

I haven't posted anything in my blog for a while because I just didn't know what to say. My medical situation has become so complicated that even one of my doctors have told me he was baffled. The ulcers aren't "normal" ulcers; they were caused by the radiation and a virus. The virus, CMV, is difficult to treat since there isn't really a cure. One idea is to treat it with an anti-viral medication, but the side-effect of that treatment is a very weakened immune system. If I pursue this medication I run the risk of not being strong enough to take the chemotherapy.

So that is why I am undergoing all these tests. Hopefully we'll get some answers. I would guess that the results will be back in about a week, so I'll try to write back when I know more. In the meantime I appreciate your prayers. I know that we all have times of testing. There are different types of tests such as financial, emotional, spiritual, and physical, but enduring them can make us stronger. I am still reminded of what Jesus said to his disciples. My paraphrase is this, "In this world you will have tests and trials, but cheer up because I have overcome the world." Testing is part of living in this world. Overcoming is part of living with Jesus.

Friday, July 28, 2006


I had a CT scan yesterday and learned that the liver tumors haven't decreased or increased much since the last scan taken 6 weeks ago. That was not bad news, but it was different news than what we expected. I am very relieved to hear that the tumors in the right lobe of the liver didn't grow as aggressively as they have in the past, but on the other hand, we (including the doctor) were a little disappointed that the tumors in the left lobe, where the majority of the microspheres were administered, had not shown more response.

So what do I do from here? I continue to choose to rejoice in the good news. I learned that the ulcers were caused because some of the radioactive microspheres traveled to my stomach. But even though the ulcers have caused me no small amount of pain and aggravation, even they are healing. The healing is very slow, but there is progress.

I have learned another lesson out of this. Healing often isn't fast. I know that isn't profound and that everyone knows this, but when one is going though a hard place the time element is one thing that can get frustrating. My niece, Meaghan, has been fighting cancer of the spine for about 4 months now and she is making amazing strides, yet it's been the toughest 4 months of her life. There has been encouraging news on her healing- one of the tumors has disappeared and the other is smaller, yet she struggles everyday just to try to do the simplest things she used to do without thinking. If there was a way that we could instantly fix everything, we would do it in a heartbeat. But I think since there isn't such a thing, the best we can all do during any adversity is to take each day as it comes, make the most of the situation, focus on the progress without dwelling on the setbacks, and thank God for the grace He gives us to just go on one more day.

All this reminds me of a verse from one of my favorite passages from the Bible, the 8th chapter of Romans. Verse 18 states, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us." In this verse, the sufferings we experience in this world are not dismissed, but are put in perspective of the eternal reality we can't see yet.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Ups and downs

It's been a while since I made a blog entry, so let me get you caught up with what has been happening. The day after the TV interview I started chemotherapy. One doesn't usually do chemo along with microsphere radiation, but Dan and I were concerned that since the doctor wasn't able inject the microspheres into the right lobe of my liver, then there was a possibility that the cancer in that side might grow so large that it would be a problem. After talking with my oncologist and after he consulted with the radiation oncologist, it was decided that it would be a good idea to start a different course of drugs. I learned that up until now I hadn't had the worst of the nausea producing drugs. This new drug was a killer, but that is the point. I want to kill all those cancer cells, so I endured the sickness as best as I could.

After about 10 days, I began to feel pretty good again, except for the occasional pain in the area where my largest liver tumor is. I had a CT scan and learned that the microspheres were all working exactly as they should and that the tumors in the left lobe of my liver were responding to treatment. Thank God. The doctor told me the pain I was feeling was consistant with where the large tumor was located and that would be normal for me to feel some pain. I figured, "no pain, no gain." No problem.

I guess I figured wrong. Things began to change after a few days unfortunately, and the pain and nausea kept increasing. I kept trying to tough it out, but things were not getting better. It fact it seemed that I was getting worse. This went on for over a week. The day before I was to have my next chemo treatment, I called the doctor and asked if the pain and nausea I was still having was normal.

As a precaution I had an endoscopy the next day instead of the scheduled chemo treatment. I learned that I have a peptic ulcer which is what has been causing the problems. I started on some medicine for that this week and there has been some improvement, but it isn't going to be a quick fix. Ulcers usually take 6 to 8 weeks to heal, but the good news is that it was just an ulcer. They did a biopsy and it was negative! I am very thankful for that.

I continue to look at all this and realize how much I have to be thankful for. In the midst of the pain, nausea, and frustration, I continue to choose to be grateful for the blessings. I am thankful for caring people who support me and cheer me on when I least expect it. They are on the journey with me, even though their journey is different. I realize that all of us are on a journey called life. There are ups and downs everyday, sometimes throughout the day. But the journey is the most pleasant when we focus on the high points, not on the low.

I want to thank each of you who have encouraged me and have given me so many high points on my journey. The emails, phone calls, cards, visits, prayers, and gifts are such a blessing! They lift me up and show God's love and concern shining through you.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Mom made the news

Report about microspheres and the Race for the Cure on Channel 11 on 06.08.06

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Microsphere Therapy

Tomorrow, May 17th, I am scheduled for the microsphere infusion. The procedure should begin about 8 o'clock. It is an outpatient procedure lasting most of the day.

I cut and pasted the following information from the wakeoncology web site. It is a brief explanation what I will have done.

SIR-Spheres microspheres are radioactive polymer spheres that emit beta radiation. Physicians insert a catheter through the groin into the hepatic artery and deliver millions of microspheres directly to the tumor site. The SIR-Spheres microspheres target the liver tumors sparing healthy liver tissue. Approximately 55 physicians in the United States use Sirtex’s SIR-Spheres microspheres in more than 60 medical centers.

You can go to the following web sites for more information if you are interested:

Last week Abby graduated from college with a B.A. in music. She had her senior recital on Tuesday and graduation on Saturday. I had the angiogram in preparation for tomorrow's procedure on Wednesday and the PET scan on Friday. The PET scan did not show any spread of cancer to any other organ other than my liver. That was a great relief!

It was a very busy week, but it was a good week. I continue to thank God for the blessings He abundantly has poured out on me and my family. What a joy it was to be able to feel good enough to attend Abby's big events. He continues to give me daily strength and hope. What an adventure life is!

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Chapter 3

Here we go again. I just learned yesterday that my latest CT scan shows that I have a 5.7 cm. tumor in my liver. This is the same area where the scan taken in December showed only a shard of the tumor left. I have been on chemo since the beginning of last June and it has been effective, but my doctor feels that some of the cancer cells must have mutated and become resistant to the chemotherapy.

What is the next step? Well, since fighting cancer isn’t an exact science, there isn’t a clear choice, but there are a few options. The first thing my oncologist suggested for me is see Dr. Andrew Kennedy. He performs microsphere therapy; this is a new procedure that has helped people with cancer in the liver. The microspheres are microscopic glass beads that are irradiated in Australia, immediately flown to Raleigh, and then injected into the patient by way of the hepatic artery. It is a kind of radiation therapy that is inserted into the part of the body that is infected with cancer.

I won’t know whether I am a candidate for this procedure until I see the doctor, but since I have consulted him before, I am expecting that I probably am. I will keep you posted.

Below is a picture taken at our Easter Pageant where my son played Jesus and my daughter played the violin in the orchestra. I sang in the choir, played Mary of Bethany and also helped with some of the directing. With the many hours of practices and performances I was pretty busy, but I felt so great! It was such a wonderful feeling to be active and enjoying having energy again. In fact I still feel good in spite of the disappointment of the latest development. I really am upbeat.

Thanks for checking in with me and praying. God is still hearing and answering. He isn't finished yet. This is just the third chapter in my cancer journey. There is much more to come, in fact I have hope that the best is yet to come.

Friday, April 28, 2006

post easter pageant

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006


It is been a while since I posted something and I am sorry for the delay. I went on a cruise for a week, and have been busy doing lots of things I love. Let me catch you up as quickly as possible. As far as how I am feeling, for the most part I feel fine. I have been tired, but that is about the worst of it. The fatigue is manageable since I don't have a 9 to 5 job. I can just rest anytime I feel the need.

I am still on a 3 week chemo cycle and according to my oncologist I will be doing this indefinitely. That was what I learned the last time I talked to him and I have to admit it was a little hard to hear. I was expecting a "finish line” or a date I could mark on the calendar which could be circled and then counted down to. But that isn't the case. The reason is because my breast cancer is advanced and aggressive. This is the best that medicine has to offer me.

So emotionally and spiritually I am back to where I started. I started this journey with the verse that says to give thanks in all things. I need to think on the things I have to be thankful for and not concentrate on the things that are impossible. I am thankful that I have the energy to live my life pretty much like I would have if I didn't have cancer.

Yesterday my daughter, Elizabeth, went to a new doctor and when she had to give a family medical history my health issues came up. When she told the doctor I was diagnosed at stage 4 over a year and a half ago and that I have the HER 2 Neu factor, the doctor asked, "How is she doing?" Elizabeth told her I was alive and the doctor was impressed! I asked her if she told the doctor that I was planning on going back to school for another degree and she said, "No, she was impressed enough that you were alive!"

So that's my update. I am alive and doing well. I am happy and thankful to be alive.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


I found out last week that the tumors in my liver are either dead or dying. I went to a specialist, a radiation oncologist, who told me that he thought my “liver was healed.” I couldn’t believe my ears! I still have 4 tumors in my liver, but he said that by studying the C.T. scans he believed that the tissue right up next to the tumors is healthy. That means the cancer is not infiltrating into my liver and that is awesome news. I will still have to continue chemotherapy because there are still probably many cancer cells floating around in my body, but as long as I am able to tolerate the toxic side effects of the chemo, I need to stay the course.

Since 2006 began, life has really become busy. Last week I started leading a class called “Experiencing God” on Sundays, went to the aforementioned doctor on Monday, had a chemo treatment on Thursday, worked on a speech for the woman’s fellowship this Friday, organized two birthday parties, worked on casting over 100 people for our upcoming Easter Pageant, and stepped up studying for the Ph.D. entrance exam which is this coming Monday.

In a earlier blog entry I mentioned that I took the M.A.T. as part of the application process for the Ph.D. program. Well, I am going forward on that. The last part of the application is a full day of essay exams about theology and philosophy. I have 9 books to read and study and I must admit that I feel a more than a little behind at this point. In fact as I am writing this I am feeling the pressure to wrap it up and get back to studying. But I just wanted to let you all know what is new and praise God for what He has done and is continuing to do.

Thank you for your prayers. God is hearing and answering. He is faithful.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Continuing Chemo and Christmas

I just had another chemo treatment today (which explains why I am awake at this hour) and I had a CT scan last week. The scan showed that the tumors are continuing to respond to treatment so I am continuing chemotherapy. I think I just had my 10th round of chemo since June which is a lot, but since the side effects are relatively minimal and the results are encouraging, then it makes sense to continue this treatment.

I have just realized that I can't think very well at 1:15 a.m. after having chemo. The drugs keep me awake, but it doesn’t matter that I can’t sleep, because I can’t seem to spell or think either. For this reason I will make this entry short. I just wanted to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a year of God’s richest blessings. I also wanted to update you on the latest news of my cancer journey. Things are going well and I appreciate everyone who has encouraged me in so many different ways.

It seems that this is going to be a long journey and I wanted you to know that every prayer, note, email, card, meal, gift, phone call, etc has been so very helpful in keeping me strong.

Thank you.

Friday, December 02, 2005


A few of you have recently started asking me what’s going on since I haven’t written in a while. I am sorry about that. I didn’t realize how long it has been since I last made an entry in my blog. I have thought about writing, but I just couldn’t think of anything worth writing.

I have been busy, but I didn’t think any of it was worthy of telling. What have I been doing? Living. I just realized that the things that I thought weren’t important enough to write about are the very things that make up life. It is so wonderful to be living, and even though I try not to take it for granted any more, I realize that I must or I wouldn’t have dismissed what I have been doing as unworthy of reporting.

I have been feeling well for the most part. The chemo treatments only make me feel badly for about 5 days out of the 21 day cycle. Even on the sick days I go on with my life. I have been laughing, shopping, visiting, listening, talking, cooking, praying, seeing, loving, learning, studying, reading, singing, reflecting, walking . . .

I am not doing anything earth shattering, just living my normal life which, when I think about it, at this point in my cancer journey, is a fantastic thing to say.

November has been a great month. I spent a beautiful weekend at the beach. The weather was perfect and I was surrounded by friends, food and fellowship. The following weekend I had my chemo treatment, but a friend had a surprise 50th birthday party that night that I couldn’t miss. Attending this celebration refocused my attention on the importance of everyday happenings that make up life. The kids came home for a couple of weekends in November which was a great delight to this new empty-nester mom.

I have learned not to lie around and think about how lousy I feel after a chemo treatment. Instead I go out and do what I would normally would do and try to ignore the aches and nausea. It is real therapy to go on with life regardless of how you feel. It reminds me of the verse that says, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” (Philippians 4:11).

I have a chemo treatment this morning in about 2 hours from now. If I don’t write again for a while, don’t worry about me. Just remember I am busy living.