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Karen & Diane Quoted in Tucson Media!
dianespow
Reporter Brad Allis, The Explorer, Tucson, AZ

The story of Karen and Mark Klay should be the story of their art. It should be a story of a married couple who collaborate to create works of art and have carved out a career doing so. Instead, their tale is a cautionary tale. It is a tale of survival and a fight with an aggressive form of cancer.
Karen did everything right. She went to the doctor and got mammograms. She had just gotten a mammogram a few months prior when she discovered a marble-sized lump in her breast. She wasted no time going to the doctor and getting things looked at. That quick decision-making likely saved her life.

She first went to her doctor, who confirmed it was not there just a few months prior. That led her to an oncologist for a biopsy and a mammogram. That was a Thursday. The call the Klay’s never wanted to hear came on a Saturday. She knew that a phone call from a doctor on a Saturday could not be good.

Klay learned that she had triple negative HER-2, which she described as “one of the most aggressive forms of cancer.” It is a microscopic cancer that is hard to detect until a large lump forms, which can happen rapidly. Even worse, many types of cancer therapies including hormone therapy do little good. Chemotherapy is generally the best option. A week later she was undergoing chemo. She underwent chemo therapy for four months, which took its toll.

“It was devastating in that it took me totally out of my element to create,” said Klay. She also had a double mastectomy, which physically took its toll on her as well. They call their artwork mixed media sculpture but for years they worked with gourds. At the time they started working with gourds, few were doing it. As it became more and more prevalent, the duo started working with more and more mediums.

Although many of their works start with gourds, they are hardly recognizable as such when they are done. One recent piece was inspired by Dia de los Muertos skeletons. The body was made of a gourd, but the rest of the skeleton was crafted in clay. A crown and scepter were fabricated out of various found metal objects, primarily old lamp parts.

Their early influences were Native American art, but soon they began incorporating Colonial Spanish, Asian and African tribal influences.
Although they are a labor of love, they are a labor. The bigger pieces can be physically taxing and smaller pieces take intense concentration, both made impossible by the chemotherapy. Klay found herself too weak to work and even when she had the energy to think about her artwork, the treatment can affect concentration and mental function, a condition known as “chemo brain.”

“You can’t function, you can’t think, you can’t create, you can’t remember things,” Klay explained. She would undergo chemo every two weeks. It was a process where she would feel terrible for several days and just when she started coming back and feeling alright, she would undergo therapy again.
For nearly a year Karen could not work, and since their artwork is collaborative, they were both essentially out of work for the year. Even with her health insurance, the bills mounted and the couple maxed out their credit cards and are seriously in debt.

They have just recently returned to creating art. First Karen started making jewelry and now the two are back working on their multimedia sculptures. They attended their first judged art show, which is where most of their sales and commissions are made, but it will be slow going at first.
Karen wanted her story told. She wanted other women to know the importance of not only getting regular mammograms, but on being vigilant between doctor appointments. She created an open Facebook page and told her story in frank detail.

“From day one I have journaled my entire cancer journey, because I really want people to understand what you go through,” said Klay. “I left out nothing. I put in all my emotions. Everything I was going through I left in so people could understand what I was going through.

“I cannot stress enough that you cannot rely on just mammograms and physicals,” Always, always, always check yourself. I had never done that before and it literally saved my life.” Three of her friends read about her journey and they were motivated to get mammograms. They discovered their own cancer and potentially saved their lives.

That frank honesty may help save her family. A high school friend Klay had not seen in nearly 40 years reached out and decided to aid her with her financial struggles. “When Karen posted her ‘Cancer Journey’, I was really touched - and frankly scared,” said Diane Powell Ferguson. “I researched her cancer. If she hadn’t found it quickly, her prognosis could have been poor. This is frightening. It struck me Karen’s story could be anyone’s: mine, my sister’s, other family, classmates, neighbors, etc. Her diagnosis literally came from nowhere. It’s scary to think one’s life can be upended so quickly.”

First she sent small gifts to lighten Karen’s spirits, but soon she decided to give back and thought crowdfunding might be a good way to get some of the Klays’ bills paid off. She set up a crowdfunding page on GiveForward.com: “Karen’s Cancer Journey: Help Her Save Lives” at https://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/7r67. Donations can also be made at PayPal with email [email protected]

The Klays were appreciative for the help, even if they were embarrassed.
“I believe in helping people and had given to crowdfunding before, but never thought I’d be a recipient,” said Klay.

Klay is back on her feet, but technically won’t be considered “cancer-free” for three years. She is exercising, but more importantly back creating, which is a key part of her life. cool
 
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