On Sept. 13, 2000, Karen Cottrell heard the news: Her doctors had found inflammatory breast cancer, or IBC, a rare, aggressive disease. It’s often misdiagnosed because of its uncharacteristic symptoms such as swelling or a rash instead of the usual lump.
Karen’s condition, however, was recognized, and she had the advantage of beginning treatment early — within 24 hours of her diagnosis.
To create awareness of the disease and raise money for MD Anderson’s Morgan Welch Inflammatory Breast Cancer Program and Clinic, she and her husband, David, who live in Horseshoe Bay in the Texas Hill Country, established a nonprofit organization called TeamKaren.
“IBC kills hundreds of women every year,” Karen says. “Fortunately, I went to the doctor as soon I felt something was wrong. I was even more fortunate because my doctors had experience with IBC and reacted immediately. The day after my diagnosis, I began chemotherapy and what would be the fight of my life.”
In 2009, Karen learned that her cancer had returned, and her fight continues.
Walk, run, live
TeamKaren began in 2009 as a 5K run and children’s relay race in Marble Falls, west of Austin. Momentum grew as more than 300 participants signed up when a 10K run was added the next year and the event moved to a larger venue at Reveille Peak Ranch in Burnet, Texas. The third annual event in October 2011 finished with a spaghetti dinner and a silent auction, raising $26,000 for MD Anderson and the Morgan Welch Inflammatory Breast Cancer Program and Clinic.
The Cottrells say they feel strongly about supporting IBC research at MD Anderson because of the institution’s ability to make significant progress in creating awareness and finding new treatments for the disease.
Philanthropy fuels the effort
TeamKaren received good news recently when two anonymous donors agreed to match every dollar raised by the organization.
Private philanthropy is important for the research of rare diseases because pharmaceutical companies are less likely to fund lesser-known initiatives, says Vicente Valero, M.D., a professor in MD Anderson’s Department of Breast Cancer Medical Oncology and clinical director of the Morgan Welch IBC Program.
“They’re looking for diseases that are more common and have a larger market,” Valero says.
Over the years, TeamKaren has raised almost $100,000. Karen and David are planning their biggest event yet to take place next October.
“We’ve been taking it one year at a time,” David says. “As always, we hope to raise awareness of the disease along with as much money as possible to make a difference in the lives of IBC patients.”
For information on the fourth annual TeamKaren event, visit teamkaren.com.