Karen Sparks of Tecumseh is a 14 year survivor of triple-negative breast cancer.

Karen Sparks of Tecumseh is a 14 year survivor of triple-negative breast cancer.

“When they first tell you 'you have cancer,' it's like someone is speaking a foreign language. You hear what they say, but you don't understand it,” she said. “It feels like it's the first time you have ever heard the word, and all at once your world goes in slow motion, while all the world around you continues on at regular speed.”

Sparks said with the love and support of her family and friends, she made it through.

“There were days I didn't think I could draw on eyebrows one more time, and days I didn't want to even walk out my front door, yet you have to keep going,” she said. “I decided early on that I was determined to beat cancer, it wasn't going to beat me. There was fear, laughter, tears and prayers, and I think the combination of all of those things is what got me through it. Looking back now it wasn't so bad, but at the time it certainly had my full attention.

As someone who has been through it, she said she can help others by sharing her story.

“The best advice I received while going through treatment was to do what you feel like doing….cry, laugh, rest, play…whatever the day brings,” she said. “My positive inspiration was my personal motto at the time: 'You can’t get to the top of the stairs by standing on the bottom step.' I was ready to get treatment started, get it behind me and get on with life.”

Through the experience, she also learned a lot about herself.

“I learned I was stronger than I gave myself credit for, and I had so many more friends than I thought, and that people truly want to help if you’ll just let them,” she said. “So many people feel helpless and don’t know what they can do to help, and if you’re like me you don’t like asking for help, but it’s the little things that can sometimes feel like the biggest mountains. Let your neighbor run to the store for you, or whatever you are needing done…people wouldn’t ask if they didn’t want to help.”

After going through such an ordeal, it also brings up gratitude for those who stood by her side.

“I have a greater appreciation for my family and friends…they are the true heroes in my book,” she said. “It’s much harder being the caregiver than it is being the patient.  When you are sick, or have a health challenge in general, your focus is on yourself to get better, but the caregivers have that focus, plus all their other obligations to juggle at the same time.”

Sparks has some sound advice for other women.

“My advice to others would be keep your chin up.  Make friends with other survivors, join a support group,” she said. “Some of the people you meet along the way are absolutely amazing and you just might inspire others.  I think a positive outlook is half the battle.  Some days are harder than others, but at the end of the day you still get to see the sunset, and hug your loved ones.

And she also wants all women to be proactive with their health.

“Don't put off that mammogram,” she said. “And listen to your body...you know it better than anyone else. I dream of a day when there is no more cancer, but until then we must be aware and fight on.”