July 15, 2024

Karen Tselentis shares her personal cancer story; about the scary, intimidating and inspiring journey she travelled.

I am forever amazed by the strength and courage of anyone who faces the almighty challenge a cancer diagnosis brings. One of our own previous Harare Magazine cover stories, the beautiful Karen Tselentis, has shared her personal story with us about the scary, intimidating and inspiring journey she travelled. 

Ann Beattie: Please give us a little background on yourself, your career, etc. 

Karen Tselentis: I am a mother of two teenage boys and previously a lady racehorse trainer and on course presenter at Borrowdale Park. 

AB: How and when did you discover your cervical cancer?

KT: I discovered I had cervical cancer in March 2021 after having a separate abdominal surgery; the cancer was picked up in post surgical biopsy.

AB: What was your first thought when you initially received the news?

KT: I was shocked at the news of my diagnosis: stage 1b cervical adenocarcinoma. I was a young, fit, healthy and active woman who took care of her health and had bi-annual cervical screening. This news really turned my world upside down. 

My amazing medical team, headed up by Dr Dee Djordevic, immediately made plans for me to travel to South Africa and meet with a renowned professor, who would perform a second very aggressive surgery to remove numerous lymph nodes and glands, as well as anything else that may have been affected by the cancer.

Oncology and radiation appointments were booked for me and then I knew that this was very very real. I had no choice but to face it with as much strength as I could. 

AB: How did you prepare for your treatment?

KT: I prepared for surgery by arming myself with knowledge for what was to come. I spoke with friends who are cancer survivors and listened to their story. I found out all I possibly could about the type of cancer I had and the surgery I would face.

Having a positive attitude and mind set at this time became of paramount importance to me; not letting fear or negativity into my space was incredibly difficult. 

AB: During treatment, what inspired you the most and kept you going?

KT: During the course of the next few weeks and months, my sons, my family and my friends inspired me, supported me, carried me, wiped away my tears… In short, I don’t know how I could’ve done it without them and I will always be truly grateful to those who stood by me in my darkest hours.

AB: What advice do you have for young women today?

KT: My advice to all women is to take responsibility for their health, to be screened regularly and to normalize talking about the dangers of HPV amongst their circles. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers and yet so many women are dying from it. I would also tell them to speak with their doctors and health care providers about vaccination against HPV, which not only causes cervical cancer, but also another 8 different types of cancer. The Human Papilloma Virus is so common that 75% of our population will contract the virus at some point in their lives.

AB: Do you have a favourite book, poem or written words that inspire you?

KT: I have read so many inspirational words on this journey, but my two favourites are these:

1. My Dad always says, “When the going gets tough, the tough keep going” – those simple words got me through many a dark night!

2. And my other favourite and something to live by is from The Chinese Art of War:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

In closing, I would just like to say that today, I am so grateful to be here to be alive so that I can share my story and use it as a tool to create awareness of HPV and cervical cancer.

Thank you, Karen, for sharing your experience with us. Your fortitude, bravery and courage can inspire all women!

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