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Giving Stories

A New Perspective on Cancer Care

Oncologist Karen Krag Brings Experience as Both Physician and Patient to Role as 2014 Cancer WALK Co-Chair.

“In an instant, my life changed,” Karen Krag (in blue, with a patient) recalls. “I had to stop my medical practice and change from caregiver to patient.”

In her 30 years as an oncologist, Karen Krag, M.D., has always empathized with her patients—to help them cope with their diagnoses, make decisions about their treatment and manage the effects of cancer on their physical and emotional health. She never imagined that one day she would find herself in their position.

Two and a half years ago, Dr. Krag was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor after experiencing a severe seizure. The diagnosis came as a shock; she was otherwise healthy and had no other symptoms or family history of cancer.

“In an instant, my life changed,” she recalls. “I had to stop my medical practice and change from caregiver to patient.”

Dr. Krag had surgery to remove her tumor at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she also had her follow-up care. The experience underscored the value of NSMC’s collaboration with Mass General, enabling her to access the specific surgical expertise needed to treat her cancer and to call on colleagues to help care for her patients at the Mass Genera/North Shore Cancer Center in Danvers while she recovered. It also gave her a new appreciation for what sets NSMC apart.

“Patients have often told me about the feeling in community and family they experience at NSMC,” she says. “My colleagues and I strive to deliver that feeling through our work, and it was a great comfort to be on the receiving end of such thoughtful and collaborative care.”

A longtime participant in the North Shore Cancer WALK, Dr. Krag has always appreciated the event as a demonstration of the NSMC community spirit. This year, she’s taking her support a step further as co-chair of the 24th annual Cancer WALK with fellow cancer survivor Jerry Tucker.

“The WALK is a special opportunity to connect with my patients and their families, to acknowledge their struggles and celebrate their triumphs and to remember those we’ve lost to cancer,” she says. “It’s a reminder that we’re all in this together.”

Since it began in 1990, the WALK has contributed more than $19 million to support state-of the-art cancer treatment and programs at NSMC and the Mass General/North Shore Cancer Center. This year’s WALK will be held on Sunday, June 22, at Salem Willows Park starting at 8 a.m. and will follow a 6.2-mile route through historic downtown Salem. Money raised will support oncology services at NSMC and the Mass General/North Shore Cancer Center.

As she reflects on her experience of cancer, Dr. Krag says it has made her more aware of the ways-both obvious and harder to measure-that the disease alters a patient’s life, from physical changes and limitations to a greater awareness of one’s mortality.

“My cancer is a part of my life now, but it isn’t my whole life,” says Dr. Krag. “Like my patients, I do my best to live with my diagnosis and to fully enjoy and appreciate where I am today.”