Earlier this year, 48-year-old Robin Karofsky was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer. It was a shocking and unexpected life-changing event for the local wife and mother who says no thank you to cake at office parties, doesn’t smoke and loves riding her bike above all other modes of transportation.
The news wasn’t any less surprising for her co-workers at the Pawtucket-based Hasbro Inc., several of whom will take to the streets of Boston on Sept. 9 alongside friends and family members of Ms. Karofsky.
There are roughly 20 members on team “Robin’s Nest” and collectively, the group is expected to raise about $7,000 through its participation in the 24th annual Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk.
The walk is the largest single-day participatory event benefiting the Jimmy Fund and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The event is expected to raise roughly $7.5 million this year and has raised $80 million since its inception in 1989.
Those taking part in the event are given the option of walking either as individuals or in teams. There are also four different routes for walkers, the longest of which covers the entire 26.2-mile marathon route and the shortest of which is a 5K.
Ms. Karofsky said she isn’t sure how far she will be able to walk with her team but knows for certain that she will join them at the finish line.
Jo Ann Laliberte is a co-worker of Ms. Karofsky and one member of team Robin’s Nest. She has also previously taken part in the Jimmy Fund Walk on six occasions.
“Robin is quite amazing,” Ms. Laliberte said. “She is determined, she is cheerful, she is inspiring. Even before she started this battle, she always came in with a smile on her face, she’d be positive and optimistic. She just continued that. Coming in when she could come in with bright colors on to be cheery. She’d be picking us up instead of us picking her up.”
Ms. Laliberte said that while she walked in past years, this is the first time she has done so as part of a team. Ms. Laliberte also said she wasn’t surprised to see such a large number of people take to the group.
“It felt good doing something for Robin. Sometimes you don’t know what to do … I knew people would come out and support her,” Ms. Laliberte said.
In March, Ms. Karofksy was home, watching a movie with her son, when she experienced what was later determined to be a seizure. Ms. Karofsky didn’t think much of the incident, describing it as “great coffee station conversation” for the following work day.
The second incident came about two weeks later while Ms. Karofsky was cycling on the East Bay Bike Path. She wanted to go home and lay on the couch but instead yielded to her husband’s wishes for a trip to Miriam Hospital. She was still wearing her cycling gloves and shoes when the doctor returned with her CAT scan results, which revealed a pair of brain tumors.
“I will never forget her eyes. She came in and I knew, the minute she came in. She was looking at me with terrified eyes,” said Ms. Karofsky of the doctor.
Next came an ambulance ride to Rhode Island Hospital, the first of Ms. Karofsky’s life, where additional tests turned up another pair of brain tumors and an inclination the cancer stemmed from her lungs.
It was the first night Ms. Karofsky had spent in the hospital since delivering her son 16 years earlier, a frightening, restless evening filled with thoughts of how she would break the news to loved ones.
Later, another three brain tumors would turn up, all too small to be noticed on initial examinations.
Her treatment schedule started immediately. There were more tests, which helped doctors determine Ms. Karofsky’s lung cancer could benefit from targeted drug therapy.
There was also a gamma knife procedure, something Ms. Karofsky jokingly described as “mad science” where surgeons performed targeted brain radiation.
Then came two rounds of chemotherapy. It was a grueling experience that Ms. Karofsky said she wouldn’t wish upon anyone though the drug was effective, shrinking the growth in her lung in preparation for a surgery performed in Boston last Thursday. Ms. Karofsky said the surgery went “really well” and she was home within a week.
Coordinating information between doctors in two different states wasn’t easy and while breast cancer patients have navigators, Ms. Karofsky said, such assistance wasn’t available to her. Luckily, she has a human resources background and no shortage of project management skills. Ms. Karofsky has kept a file of her fight with cancer, a thick binder with every doctor’s visit, treatment, mile traveled and dollar spent.
“I’m a good project manager and the project I’m managing today is me,” she said.
<strong>Acts of kindness</strong>
Ms. Karofsky has also kept track of what she describes as human acts of kindness. There was the nurse who followed her the day doctors confirmed the lung cancer diagnosis, the day Ms. Karofsky stormed out of the hospital crying. You have to hope, the nurse told Ms. Karofsky, before giving her a hug.
Then there are the cards. Ms. Karofsky has saved them all, dozens of them, stacked in a gift bag, each one covered with signatures and well wishes.
“They keep me going,” Ms. Karofsky said.
“It’s overwhelming. That’s all I can say. It’s overwhelming. People are amazing.”
People, said Ms. Karofsky, such as her son who keeps her laughing, and her husband, who has been by her side every step of the way. They are caregivers, Ms. Karofsky said, who don’t get recognized enough for their efforts.
Neither Ms. Karofsky’s diagnosis nor her subsequent treatment have done anything to hamper her spirit. She doesn’t allow people to look at her with “sad eyes.”
“I’m not going to let it get me. It can’t win. I will go down fighting,” Ms. Karofsky said.
“Nobody’s told me I can’t.”
Another Barrington resident will be hitting the streets to raise money in a couple of weeks. Kira Richardson took part in the event for the first time last year, walking the entire marathon route. Prior to this, Ms. Richardson said she donated to the Jimmy Fund regularly but decided to get involved with the walk after learning about it through an e-mail.
Ms. Richardson said she tries to be a fit person and the walk seemed like a good way to combine her fitness and charitable interests. She recruited a friend last year and this time out, the duo has expanded to a trio.
“I loved it. It was very inspirational,” said Ms. Richardson of the event.
Training, Ms. Richardson said, began about a month ago with short walks during the week and long walks on the weekend. She also said that while fund-raising isn’t easy, the cause is worth it.
“I don’t work in an office. For me to try to fund-raise, it’s not my favorite thing to do, asking people for money, but I believe strongly in this cause.”
Ms. Richardson said she used e-mails and social media as her primary fund-raising tool. She hit the $500 mark last year and has already matched that level this time out.