Volunteer Gives Back Through Cancer Resource Center

November 19, 2017

Karen Braeckel knows her way around the hospital like a docent at an art gallery.

Her husband, of 40 years and one month, John Braeckel was a hospital administrator in Missouri and South Carolina and also worked for the Indiana Hospital Association and the Indiana State Department of Health.

But Braeckel learned her way around the patient side of healthcare when her husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was a patient of Dr. Michael House at IU Health Simon Cancer Center. November is “Pancreatic Cancer Awareness” Month when patients and healthcare providers speak out about the disease to help educate others.

Two years into John Braeckel’s treatment, the couple’s daughter, Keely Underhill was diagnosed with colon cancer and was under the care of IU Health Simon Cancer Center surgeon Dr. Alyssa Fajardo and oncologist Dr. Paul Helft. She has been cancer free for almost three years.

The couple also has another daughter Cindy Larco, a son Kurt Braeckel, and five grandchildren.

John Braeckel remained a patient at IU Health Simon Cancer Center for about three years. He died in 2015. Shortly afterward, Karen Braeckel retired from the Hoosier State Press Association.

“I had time on my hands and I was looking at ways I could give back. I wanted to give back because of what this hospital had given to us,” said Braeckel. “Dr. House, his nurse and staff were amazing. Dr. House wasn’t just a fabulous surgeon; he was a fabulous doctor and a person who deeply cared for his patients. He even served as a pallbearer at John’s funeral.”

When she thought about volunteering at IU Health, the Cancer Resource Center was just in the planning stages. This month marks the first year of the IU Health Cancer Resource Center a place that provides patient advocacy and assistance programs. The center located on the first floor of IU Health Simon Cancer Center also provides complimentary therapies such as yoga, massages, art and music through the CompleteLife Program.

“It wasn’t difficult to come back to Simon Cancer, because I look at this as a place that gave me three more years with John. When I met John he worked as a hospital administrator so we didn’t have that fear that some people experience at hospitals,” said Braeckel who works one day a week as the lead volunteer – communicating with other volunteers, assisting the Cancer Resource Center administrators, facilitating trainings, and serving the visitors of the center. The Cancer Resource Center has an ongoing program to train new volunteers.

Last November, Braeckel helped with the Cancer Resource Center’s grand opening. Cancer Resource Center volunteers are trained by IU Health Simon Cancer Center as well as the five partner agencies: Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen, The Little Red Door and Cancer Support Community.

“I’ve learned so much from our partners. There weren’t a lot of support groups around when we were going through John’s diagnosis and treatment. If I’d known about some of the groups that we partner with now, I would have taken part,” said Braeckel.

“That’s the thing I like best - knowing we are helping people. If you can make them smile, give them information, or even just sit by their side and hand them a Kleenex or a cup of coffee, that’s rewarding. It’s a place where people know they aren’t alone.”

-- By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Banes via email at
T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.

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