By KIM LOCCISANO
Times Leader Staff Writer
When Martins Ferry native Karen Weber Marks began painting lessons not long ago, she never dreamed it would prove a profoundly life-altering act. She didn't know that through her artistic efforts, she could have a positive impact on advancing breast cancer research or that she would feel better able to fight her own battle as a breast cancer patient and be empowered to help others facing the same fight.
After she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Karen Weber Marks, a native of Martins Ferry, dreamed of a colorful “House of Hope.”?When she awoke, she painted the image and eventually made copies on note cards. Part of the proceeds of the card sales go to breast cancer research.
But, in short, that is exactly what happened-and is still happening.
"After surgery, I was at home and I had this dream. I saw this beautiful house," she explained of what would be the design she was developing in her mind's eye, noting the name of the painting was even pulled from the memory she had of that single dream image: "House of Hope."
"When I woke up, I had to draw it," she reflected. "I had dreamed about the design, all the colors-there was so much pink-I knew what everything was supposed to look like in the painting because it was what I remembered from my dream.
"One thing led to another and the next thing I know, I was getting 500 note cards made up with copies of the painting on them and a special verse on the back," shared Marks.
It seemed divine involvement would again make its presence felt when while the budding artist was beginning to consider what the back of the card could be used for in the way of sharing a positive message. Just the right words came in front of her eyes and immediately connected to her heart.
The timeless message of Romans 12:12 proved a perfect fit: "Be joyful in hope; patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer."
Each part of the message was something she felt an immediate connection to, making it a perfect choice to share as a part of each card to be made for sale in an effort to raise monies for cancer research.
"When I started my chemotherapy treatment, I was inspired to paint watercolors," she recalled.
Out of the agony that was her breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment, Marks' spirit rose like the legendary phoenix to begin the next phase of her life, and did it with a new sense of purpose and-eventually-of inner peace, strength, and the very real sense that she would see some part of the treatment process advanced through her efforts.
The note cards bearing copies of the original watercolor image of the "House of Hope" are being sold individually for $3 each. Sets are sold at a special rate, and the cards are even available for sale on a wholesale basis. Anyone interested in additional information concerning a purchase is invited to contact Marks by phone at 803-279-6324 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
She is directing the fund-raising effort to an exceptional research program.
Through resources in her local area, Marks was able to establish a relationship with an arm of the highly respected teaching and research hospital at the Medical College of Georgia-a place specializing in this work, and an established educational organization, The Breast Cancer Prevention Coalition, all located just across the river from the community of North Augusta in South Carolina, where she and her husband, Leo Marks, make their home.
Through feeding her creative soul, and the rare willingness to be able to find and focus on the very real possibility of something good coming from a place as dark as a diagnosis of breast cancer, she found the inspiration to see all things connected to this experience as nothing short of positive.
That's not the viewpoint of most people who, when facing a battle with an aggressive type of breast cancer and other complicating factors, choose to undergo a double mastectomy.
It was the decision she hoped would ultimately save her life-a life threatened by an aggressive cancer known to quickly alter its makeup and mass.
She and her physician, a breast cancer specialist, felt it was the best path to follow.
Marks thought she was doing all she could to protect herself from falling prey to any form of cancer, particularly breast cancer. Her efforts had consisted largely of regular screenings, exams, and visits to her physician, as well as self-breast examinations.
"I've never been one to avoid getting regular screenings and exams," she recalled. "Skipping exams is not very smart to do."
"After my mom was diagnosed when she was in her 70s with breast cancer, my doctor advised an exam to be done for me every six months. It was that schedule for screening that allowed the tumor to be found early, so the cancer was in a very early stage. It hadn't spread to the lymph nodes yet. But, remember, it was just six months before she made the discovery that I had a clear exam," shared Marks, explaining her physician had discovered the mass during an office visit, meaning it was large enough to be felt, but she had missed it on her own despite following guidelines.
Thorough, but general, biopsy tissue samples were taken and reviewed in the doctor's office setting.
None of the tested tissue provided a definitive enough answer for her physician's liking, though they all came back as benign. A trip to the hospital for a very exact test was next: a core biopsy. That result gave a clear answer-the cancer was reached early enough that it had not spread to the lymph nodes.
"Catching it early made all the difference for me," she offered candidly.
After the diagnosis, it was time to get all the up-to-date information she could about the disease, meet with the doctor and review options for treatment and healing.
One Web site became a favorite, offering solid information, and a sense of belonging rather than isolation, as can often happen. The site is breastcancer.org.
"We-the general public-think we are well informed about cancer, especially things like breast cancer. But it's only when you come face-to-face with it in your own life that you realize you really don't know all that much about it, especially factual and up-to-date information," she shared. "Getting access to good information about the breast cancer I had developed was something that was really important to me to be able to do."
Marks road to and through breast cancer surgery, reconstruction and recovery has been made more challenging than was anticipated, but she considers it all as being ultimately headed in the right direction: that of her being able to be counted among the fighters who are breast cancer survivors.
Her thoughtful sharing of a clear message of hope for a world without breast cancer will continue to help move researchers closer to answers, treatments and cures for breast cancer.
The clear support of family and friends can play a vital role in a breast cancer patient's ability to get through the trials of diagnosis, treatment and healing, particularly critical days such as can come on the heels of surgery and as part of a treatment process of chemotherapy or radiation.
The outpouring of love and support she found directed her way from the beginning of her personal battle against breast cancer has been "unexpected and overwhelming, and very uplifting."
In response she offers the "House of Hope" fund-raising effort for research: a note card sized print of an original watercolor brought to life by a breast cancer patient undergoing treatment.
If-as the saying goes-a picture is worth a thousand words, consider the possibilities within reach simply through sharing note cards carrying prints of Marks' inspirational original watercolor painting.
Consider sharing a positive message; the message carried in a "House of Hope."