We spoke to the lovely woman, inspiring friend and fighter Karin Karlsson. From being one of the healthiest people we know of – running marathons from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, skiing and hiking the alps – to being diagnosed with breast cancer only 33 years old. Karin decided to fight through chemo with exercise and spending time in nature. Read her inspiring story on how the disease changed her life.
How would you describe your journey from getting diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2019?
I follow an account on Instagram that lets different women share their life story. One day there was a woman, who shared her story of being diagnosed with breast cancer. This led me to examining my breasts, something I had not really done on a regular basis before.
I felt a lump and to the contrary of what I usually do (I never go to the doctor) I got it checked up right away. It took two months from my first doctors’ appointment until I was diagnosed, and every doctor I spoke to during this time said not to worry, “you are so young, it is not cancer”. When I finally got the diagnosis, at first, I was in shock. I couldn’t really grasp the fact that I was 33 and diagnosed with a deadly disease. There were also so many “ifs and buts'' in the beginning, and a lot of tests and scans that needed to be done to find out what exact type of cancer I had that made the stress of it all even bigger. After a month of tests, we had a treatment plan ready and I have since gone through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation and I am currently on a 10-year post treatment medication plan.
In one way I am somewhat thankful that I have a bit of a naïve personality. I didn’t quite realize how bad things could have gone. I know now that a cancer diagnosis can change scope from one day to another. but that never crossed my mind before or during the treatment. It has been the longest year in my life, you put your life on hold and everything you do centers around the next treatment, medication, check-up or scan. Yet looking back, I somehow see it as “it was not as hard as I initially thought” but then it’s easy to forget all the tough parts like side effects from treatment, pain, fatigue, losing your hair and all the many hours you must spend in the hospital.
What do you bring with you from 2020, and what do you leave behind?
A lighter look at life. I was not a big worrier before my diagnosis, but I think now more than ever I don’t place my energy on the things I cannot control, and as cheesy as it might sound, I live more in the moment. Even if I sometimes look back at this year with a lot of sorrow, it’s also with a very warm heart. Because the love that I received during the most difficult time in my life, and the way the people around me lifted me up and made me strong when I was weak is something I will always carry with me. I am incredibly thankful for my friends and family who showed up for me, without all of them this year would have been so much harder, and I can start crying just thinking about all the amazing people I have in my life. I leave behind a year I would never want to go back to, but as with any life changing events I am also thankful for this year. It brought me a lot of clarity and I learned so much about myself and of what is really important in life.
I saw it as a job that had to be done, and focused on being successful on getting through treatment rather than on the fact that I was sick. There are few things you can control yourself when it comes to cancer treatment, so I tried to control the things I could. This being working out, what I eat and whom I spent time with. I also celebrated every little victory and milestone, and when I was done I had a party for all my friends. There are so many inspiring cancer warriors out there and through this experience I found a lot of new friends.
What role did exercise have in getting through the treatment (and healing)?
Exercising during cancer treatment has been proved to lower the side effects of chemo, and as training and moving my body have always been a great part of my life, I made sure to keep that habit going. It did not matter how tired I was, I tried to do some sort of exercise each day and it helped a lot to also keep my mind focused and clear. During the last part of treatment I even signed up for a 4 week bootcamp where focus was on cardio. Looking back it’s crazy how I thought that was a good idea. And I still wonder how I even managed, being on strong painkillers 24/7 and with a constant anaemia (meaning very bad oxygenation).
How did nature and being outdoors contribute?
It made all the difference in the world. Being outside is my therapy, whether it’s my daily morning run, biking, skiing in the winter or hiking in the summer. Being outdoors during this year helped me to stay calm and relaxed. I spent a lot of time at my summer house in Skåne in the south of Sweden, being close to and swimming in the ocean is really healing for me.
What do you wanna share with women who get diagnosed with cancer?
You are not alone. Your destiny is not in someone else’s history. It’s going to be tough, but there is also a life during treatment and since you will have a lot of time on your hands, use this time to reflect. Make sure to eat well, exercise, drink water, sleep when you need and have routines, it makes a huge difference. Find someone you can talk to that is in the same situation as you, there are several networks and FB groups out there, great support system. When you are done, celebrate and don’t be too quick to go back to “normal life” your body and mind will need time to heal.
What outdoor experiences are on your bucket list and what are you looking forward to after the pandemic?
Sooo many, but I would really like to ski in Patagonia, visit New Zealand and Galapagos and spend more time in the very northern parts of Sweden.
Who inspires you, and why?
In general, anyone who is following their dream, whatever it might be, is always inspiring. And if they at the same time manage to be kind, curious and non-judgmental it’s even more inspiring. One person I, during the last year have listened to a lot, is Björn Natthiko Lindeblad. He seems to have a really nice and relaxed attitude towards life with plenty of great advice.
Any final words relating to women’s health, nature etc?
Check your boobies one time per month, live now, be kind to yourself and others, never stop moving your body and watch more sunsets than Netflix.