The first thing you notice about Karen Butterton when you meet her is the calm and quiet confidence that is everywhere about her, in her eyes, in her voice. There is always a sense of utter tranquility.
This, you quickly learn, is in stark contrast to the truth of her story.
“For most of my life,” she recalls, “I had been dreaming of the day I would become a mother. Then just over ten years ago, I learned two things in a single day. One, I would not be able to give birth. Two, I had breast cancer.”
Karen was living in Atlanta at the time, and made the decision to receive treatment from a hospital there. Fortunately, the cancer was identified at an early stage, and she responded well to her care.
“In 2009,” she says, smiling at the memory, “With breast cancer behind me and a new home in the Daytona area, I was healthy enough – and lucky enough – to be given the opportunity to adopt a beautiful little boy. He was thirteen months old at the time. Nathan came home with us that day, and our lives were immediately transformed.”
Things changed in 2012, when Karen’s family doctor confirmed her cancer had returned.
“But then my doctor said something that gave me hope,” Karen remembers. “She told me she was sending me to see the top women’s oncologist in the greater Daytona Beach area.”
Karen then met Dr. Ruby Deveras, and right from the start she felt both the reassurance of being in the hands of a medical expert and the warm and personal caring of a friend.
“Immediately, from that two-hour conversation, I knew I was in the right place, and that I would get the best care and still be close to home. Dr. Deveras and her team offered compassionate, flexible care, which meant I would never miss a day of either work or motherhood. She had a terrific knowledge base, she knew exactly which medication caused 60% less side effects. She was clearly proactive, wanting to prevent as many potential problems as possible.
“Above all, she told me my little boy had already lost one mother, so together we would do whatever it takes to make sure he doesn’t lose another.”
The awareness of state-of-the-art science was another factor in Dr. Deveras’s favor. And as a healthcare executive herself, Karen had the benefit of medical expertise that gave her a unique appreciation for the skill set of her oncologist, far beyond the perspective of most patients.
“She clearly practiced evidence-based medicine,” Karen noted. “She was always steeped in clinical trial data. She knew all the tumor-behavioral tendencies based on stage, location, and every other factor. She knew all the success rates. So she created with a completely data-inspired strategy.”
As is often the case, for Karen one of the most difficult phases of the treatment from an emotional point of view was when she lost her hair during the course of chemotherapy.
“I was not feeling very pretty at that time,” Karen recalls. “Then one time Nathan came over to me just after treatment, and put his hand on my face. And he said ‘Mommy, you look beautiful.'”
Nathan played a surprisingly significant role during the course of Karen’s healing process.
“Every step of the way,” Karen smiles, “I focused on Nathan, and my husband, and all the things that really matter in life. You have to think about the goals, and the future, all the time. And the goal is to live a healthy, happy life with your family.
“Confusion, discouragement, hopelessness, and especially fear. Those are your enemies. You cannot go there.”
The constant and unwavering support and encouragement of her medical team was a far more critical foundation to the success of her treatment than Karen had anticipated. And in the end, she was most grateful for their caring and their perspectives.
She memorized the messages that meant the most to her.
“‘You’re following the plan. Your blood work is good. You’re getting there.’ That’s all they can say during that phase of the treatment.
“And then, finally, when you get the PETscan after treatment is completed, well that’s when you know you made the right choice.”
Again, as an atypical patient – one who begins treatment already knowing the medical process fairly well – Karen’s observations are insightful.
“You don’t always see that level of collaboration,” Karen suggests. “And that shared expertise, that collaboration, existed both within my Halifax Health clinical team and between Dr. Deveras and leading oncologists from other cancer care centers.”
She offers some perspective of her own for potential future patients.
“Choose wisely who provides your care,” Karen concludes. “Do your research. For me, that meant going to Halifax Health and getting the full spectrum of my treatment from the team of compassionate and knowing people there. Learn as much as you can and feel good about starting as soon as possible.”
“I thank Dr. Deveras and the team of clinical experts at Halifax Health for giving me the future with my David and Nathan.”