@story MARLA CANTRELL
@image COURTESY OF SHIRLEY
First Baptist Church in Van Buren filled on June 9, 2011, with friends and family who came to remember the life of Karen Kay Yeager Windsor. A harpist played “Amazing Grace,” two of the pastors spoke, and the congregation rose to sing “Our God.”
Karen, who had just turned forty in December, died of ovarian cancer on June 4. Karen’s mother, Shirley Yeager, felt her heart swell with grief that seemed as deep as a river. “My daughter Deborah had lost a sister, Aaron had lost his wife, I’d lost my daughter, Lexi and Gage had lost their mother. It changes everything about your life.”
When Karen found out she had ovarian cancer, less than six months earlier, both she and Shirley expected a good outcome. There would be a fight, of course, but Karen was fit and disciplined. Karen’s husband Aaron did everything he could. When he came home with three Jack LaLanne juicers and started mixing health drinks, Karen laughed, happy she had a husband who took such good care of her.
But ovarian cancer is a conniving disease, and the symptoms are so ambiguous it’s often hard to diagnose. Chronic fatigue, constipation, and bloating, to name a few. Those who know it well call it the silent killer.
Karen fought hard to get better. When she realized she wouldn’t, she relied on her faith to see her through. “I was rubbing her back one night and she started talking about her grandfather and her grandmother already in heaven and wondering if they’d be racing to see her. We laughed and she cut her eyes at me and said, ‘Any messages?’ And I said, ‘Tell them I love them and I miss them.’ And then she started telling Aaron things he needed to know, like it was time to paint the front door.’ That was typical Karen.
“She lived by the rule: always be kind to others. She had a good heart. Everyone who worked with her at Yeager’s Hardware loved her to pieces. She was always at the ballgames when Lexi and Gage played. She’d get so nervous for them. We called her our little peacemaker because she didn’t like fussing. She’d say, ‘Life’s too short for that.’
“Lexi and Gage had so much support from Union Christian Academy where they attend school, and so many people from there brought meals. I made a promise to Karen that I’d always look after the kids. I don’t leave their house ever without them telling me how much they love me, and they’ll thank me if I make dinner for them and their dad, or if I help them with their homework.
“One of my last memories of Karen is from Crested Butte. We got the doctors to agree to let Karen go. Gage was taking snowboard lessons, and we were sitting on the deck, watching him come in. Karen spied Gage coming off that hill, after just one day of lessons, and she looked over at me and the smile and the pride in her eyes is something I’ll never forget.
“He wanted so much for Karen to ski with him on that trip but she was too weak. She said, ‘Next time I’ll go with you, Gage.’ Last Christmas was a hard one and we decided to go back to Colorado instead of staying home. I found a picture of Karen and Gage, a close up of them smiling, and I gave it to Gage and told him to put it in his pocket. I said, ‘Go ski with your mom.’” Shirley’s voice breaks. “And he did.”
“And Lexi, she and her dad planted all the flowers out by the patio this year because Karen always did that, and she loved it so. Lexi waters them every day.”
Before Karen died, she talked to Shirley about the need for more information concerning ovarian cancer. She hadn’t known the symptoms and suspected many other women were just like her. “I wanted to honor her, so in November I went to the River Valley Chapter of Ovarian Cancer, which was started by Blanche West after she lost her sister-in-law to the disease that went undiagnosed for two years.”
One of the group’s goals is to put cards that list the symptoms in all local doctors’ offices. Patients will be able to take them home. “First of all, we want women to know what the symptoms are. And we want to let them know they should listen to their bodies and if they don’t like the first opinion they get, get a second or third. Trust what your body tells you. Also, if you think a pap test detects ovarian cancer, you’re wrong.”
Shirley’s hope is that the work they’re doing will save another family from losing their mother or sister or daughter. It’s been a hard year, and there were times when she couldn’t stop worrying about her grandchildren. But then a wise friend told her that the kids would be fine. “He asked me how old Lexi was, and I said eleven. And he said, “’Eleven years with Karen Yeager Windsor as a mother is worth more than twenty-five years with anyone else.’” Shirley knows it’s true. “When I think of her,” Shirley says, “she’s always smiling. She loved her children so much, and they’ll see her again one day in heaven. When we put together photos for her service, it was the same. That trademark smile,” Shirley says. “It really was something to see.”
If you’d like to help support the River Valley Ovarian Cancer Chapter’s efforts, you can attend:TEAL Night in Tahiti
Saturday, August 25 at Golden Living in Fort Smith.
Dinner, Dancing, Silent Auction, Jewelry Drawing
$30 per person
883.3379 or 646.3431
Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer:
Pelvic pain in the lower abdomen
Gas, nausea and/or upset stomach that does not go away
Frequently feeling an urgent need to go to the bathroom
Gaining or losing weight without trying
Swelling, bloating and/or feeling full
Changes in bowel habits
Pain during intercourseIf symptoms persist daily for more than two weeks, call your doctor.