‘Brave and fierce’

Fundraiser Thurs­day for Is­land woman bat­tling cancer for sec­ond time in a year

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY MITCH MAC­DON­ALD

The past year has seen Karen Nicholson’s world turned upside down.

About a year ago, the P.E.I. na­tive was be­gin­ning her ca­reer as a reg­is­tered nurse in Toronto while also plan­ning her wed­ding to then fi­ancé Taha Ab­basi.

To­day, the 28-year-old is in the midst of her sec­ond bat­tle against leukemia, a fight that in­cludes in­ten­sive chemo­ther­apy, ra­di­a­tion and a stem cell trans­plant from her brother.

For many of Nicholson’s friends, the young nurse was the last per­son they would ex­pect to be di­ag­nosed.

“Es­pe­cially being so young,” said friend Samantha Hughes. “She was al­ways very healthy, very con­scious of what she eats and doesn’t smoke or drink. She’s pretty well the last per­son you’d ex­pect to go through this.”

Nicholson grew up in York, P.E.I., be­fore mov­ing to Toronto after high school.

She was back home on P.E.I. for her bridal shower last Au­gust, with her Toronto wed­ding planned for that Sep­tem­ber.

How­ever, just two days after the shower, Nicholson was di­ag­nosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and was quickly trans­ported to Hal­i­fax’s Vic­to­ria General Hos­pi­tal for treat­ment.

While in hos­pi­tal, Ab­basi kept his word to marry Nicholson.

They tied the knot in a small wed­ding cer­e­mony fa­cil­i­tated by the hos­pi­tal’s spir­i­tual ad­viser.

“Her hus­band made the prom­ise when she first got sick it would still hap­pen… and it was beau­ti­ful,” said Hughes. “It wasn’t what she had ex­pected … but it was still in­cred­i­ble.”

Just two days after her wed­ding, Nicholson also found out her cancer was in re­mis­sion.

Al­though she had to re­main in hos­pi­tal for about four months, she was dis­charged to P.E.I. at the end of December.

She then re­turned to Toronto in Fe­bru­ary to plan her hon­ey­moon this summer with hopes of re­turn­ing to work in Sep­tem­ber.

Hughes said un­for­tu­nately, Nicholson re­ceived word in June that her cancer has re­turned.

In an up­date to friends and fam­ily online, Nicholson said it took a while to wrap her head around the sit­u­a­tion.

“I have re­al­ized, how­ever, that noth­ing has changed since I be­gan this jour­ney. I still have to take it day by day, not look back and do my best to lis­ten to my body,” wrote Nicholson.

“I have a team that con­sists of more than nurses and doc­tors; it starts with lead­ers like my hus­band and par­ents, my close fam­ily and best friends, ex­tended fam­ily and friends of friends and fam­ily.”

Even after re­ceiv­ing a trans­plant, Nicholson will have to live in a sep­a­rate apart­ment due to her weak­ened im­mune sys­tem.

“It’s a pretty long road ahead,” said Hughes.

It has also been fi­nan­cially tough since Nicholson has been un­able to work while her fam­ily has spent much of the time stay­ing in dif­fer­ent prov­inces to sup­port her.

A GoFundMe started by Hughes last month, named “Karen’s Leukemia Fight,” has raised $13,300 of its $15,000 goal.

Hughes and sev­eral oth­ers have also been sell­ing “Team Karen” bracelets and shirts this summer.

They’ll also be hold­ing a fundraiser Thurs­day at The Pour House above the Old Tri­an­gle from 6 p.m. to mid­night.

The event will fea­ture live en­ter­tain­ment and a silent auc­tion and will kick off a raf­fle for two WestJet tick­ets to any­where the air­line flies.

“As a close friend to Karen for many years, I can tell you she is the first to help out any­one else and the last to ask for help her­self, which is why I’m do­ing in on her be­half. She is de­ter­mined, strong and one hell of a fighter,” said Hughes, not­ing all the money raised will help Nicholson’s fam­ily’s travel ac­com­mo­da­tions and sup­plies for home care as well as Nicholson’s stu­dent loan.

While Nicholson has been “brave and fierce in her fight,” Hughes said she also has ad­mi­ra­tion for her friend’s good­na­tured spirit through­out a dif­fi­cult jour­ney.

“She makes the nurses laugh and doc­tors laugh, she stays so light and fo­cused,” said Hughes. “The ad­mi­ra­tion I have for her strength and courage while maintaining her good na­tured spirit through­out this dif­fi­cult jour­ney is in­de­scrib­able. She is my hero.”

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

P.E.I. na­tive Karen Nicholson poses with her hus­band, Taha Ab­basi, after their wed­ding in Hal­i­fax, where she was being treated for leukemia. Just two days after her wed­ding last year, Nicholson found out her cancer was in re­mis­sion, but it has since re­turned.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

P.E.I. na­tive Karen Nicholson pets fam­ily dog Skye shortly be­fore get­ting mar­ried in Hal­i­fax last Sep­tem­ber. Nicholson had planned to marry Taha Ab­basi in Toronto, but the cou­ple made al­ter­nate ar­range­ments after Nicholson was di­ag­nosed with leukemia.

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