When Karen James was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer in July 2016, she immediately knew two things. First, she was going to keep working as long as she could. And second, she wasn’t going to let colorectal cancer prevent her from attending any Houston Texans football home games.
“I was so excited when they came to Houston in 2002,” says Karen, who bought tickets to three games the first season, then got to see all the games for free the next three years when she worked as a concession stand supervisor at Reliant Stadium. “I finally put my name on the waiting list in 2005, and got season tickets in 2006,” she says. “I haven’t missed a home game since then.”
Karen is such a dedicated Texans football fan that she’s organized her chemotherapy treatments at MD Anderson around the team’s home game schedule.
She gets the pump hooked up at MD Anderson in Katy every other Friday and goes to games while the chemotherapy is infusing. Then, on Sundays after the games, she comes to MD Anderson’s Texas Medical Center Campus to get it disconnected.
A chance colorectal cancer diagnosis
Karen’s colorectal cancer was found by chance in June 2016, after she had extensive bloodwork done to get a discount on medical insurance.
The tests showed Karen’s LDH levels and liver enzymes were extremely high. Her employer had two different oncologists review the results before calling to tell her to see a doctor right away.
“I went to my primary care provider first, and he couldn’t believe it,” she says. “I didn’t have any colorectal cancer symptoms or pain at all.”
Karen’s colorectal cancer treatment plan
Karen had surgery at a local hospital on July 26 to remove the primary tumor. It was the size of a racquetball and had almost completely blocked her large intestine.
“The doctors were amazed,” Karen says. “I’d never had any problems with constipation or diarrhea either.”
For follow-up treatment, her oncologist referred her to MD Anderson. She got an appointment with Sunil Patel, M.D. at MD Anderson in Katy within a week.
“I was a little starstruck because I had seen him on billboards and in advertisements,” Karen says. “But his bedside manner is so down to earth. He just tells it like it is.”
Karen was also thrilled to that MD Anderson had a location so close to her home.
“I love that it only takes me 15 minutes to get there,” she says. “Traffic is heading the opposite way, and the best thing is that parking is free.”
Karen’s chemotherapy regimen
Dr. Patel recommended a cocktail of four different chemotherapy drugs to treat Karen’s colorectal cancer: i5-Fluorouracil, capecitabine, oxaliplatin and irinotecan. Karen had to discontinue the last drug after the first round because she lost too much weight, but her second round of chemotherapy is going well.
“When I take off the pump, I pretty much sleep for the first two days,” Karen says. “Other than that, it’s not too bad.”
And though Karen is still in the very early stages of her colorectal cancer treatment, preliminary results seem positive. Some spots on her liver are shrinking, and her blood work is dropping back into the normal range.
“Dr. Patel thinks the chemotherapy is working, which is the best news you could ever have,” Karen says.
Side effects won’t make Texans fan break her promise
So far, the worst side effect Karen has experienced is fatigue, which has forced her to reduce her workload.
“I’m used to working 50 to 60 hours a week,” says Karen, who just turned 50. “I figured I still had plenty of time to save for retirement, but cancer pulled the rug out from under me.”
Nevertheless, Karen remains determined to keep her two promises. She still works on a reduced schedule, and you’ll find her wearing her pink, glittery Texans hat at every home game.
She has friends drop her off in front of the stadium so she can be in her seat by 11 to watch the players warm up. “I might not be able to walk very far, but I can still cheer,” she says.
Karen feels a special connection to her favorite player, J.J. Watt, who is currently injured.
“He’s going through rehab and trying to get his body back to normal so he can play again,” she says. “I know exactly what that feels like because my goal is to get back to work and return to what I love doing.”
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.