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Patient: ‘I beat cancer three times, now I’m trying to survive the cure’

IU Health Simon Cancer Center

Patient: ‘I beat cancer three times, now I’m trying to survive the cure’

She never wanted to be defined by cancer. She never wanted to be known as “the girl who beat cancer.” When she learned she couldn’t run from her reality, Karrah Teruya recorded her journey in a blog.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes,

It was June 2018. At the age of 29, Karrah Teruya heard the diagnosis, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. She’d never been to a doctor except for her gynecologist; she’d never been to a hospital other than the day she was born.

The diagnosis wasn’t immediate. It was like constructing a puzzle. She was tired and nauseous and was admitted to the hospital with liver failure. It took a team to determine the cause of the liver failure – including specialists in liver, gastrointestinal and infectious diseases.

“My blood work was passed to oncology and within 20 minutes, I was scheduled for chemotherapy at IU Health Simon Cancer Center,” said Teruya. She credits Dr. Larry Cripe, who specializes in hematology, for putting a name to her disease. Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia is a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow.

At first, Teruya and her husband of seven years, Micah, dubbed the diagnosis “a major inconvenience.” After her initial chemotherapy regime, Teruya went into remission. But it was short lived. The cancer returned in January of 2021.

The oldest child of five, Teruya’s best option was a stem cell transplant. Her sister, Makayla Fidler, was a match. There are 10 years between the sisters who grew up in Syracuse, Ind.

"The toughest part was not knowing whether it would work or not," said Fidler. "There were a lot of unknowns. I grew up not having to go to the hospital or doctor except for stitches or maybe an earache."

The life-saving cells were collected from both arms as she sat still for nearly 10 hours.

Since then, Fidler has encouraged others to sign up for Be The Match, a national marrow and blood cell transplant program.

“A little discomfort is worth the opportunity to possibly change someone’s life,” said Fidler.

It seemed that Teruya was on the road to recovery. She regained her health and her life after transplant. But six months later, a bone marrow biopsy showed the cancer was back. The next step was immunotherapy.

During a recent treatment at IU Health Simon Cancer Center, Teruya talked about what it means to be a three-time cancer survivor. She talked about an upcoming trip to Italy with her husband where she will visit the Sistine Chapel, view great works of art and eat big slices of pizza. She talked about her love of wine, food, and community. She talked about her pursuit of a master’s degree in healthcare administration.

“I’ve had some amazing doctors and nurses who have helped me set goals and I want to work in a healthcare environment that is great both for the healthcare workers and the patients,” said Teruya.

In her blog, “Brave Blood: I Beat Cancer Three Times Now I’m Trying to Survive the Cure,” Teruya writes: “It was nothing short of a miracle that I am a three-time cancer survivor. What makes it bittersweet is that my cancer is extremely aggressive and most people in this position only live another six months.”

As she talks about what’s next, Teruya lights up sharing her life interests – hiking, backpacking, yoga, scuba diving in her husband’s native Hawaii, and hanging with their two dogs.

Recording her experience in a blog was something she initially resisted.

“This was a club I never wanted to be a part of and I was going to do anything to avoid membership,” she writes. “I didn’t want the t-shirt, the sticker, or the ribbon. I wasn’t going to become the girl who ‘beat cancer.” I was running away from that stereotype as fast as I could. But even during this time, I was amazed at how many people have known me and stepped in with prayers, fundraising, cards, care packages and so much love.” Teruya goes on to write, “People knew I needed support even if I wasn’t going to ask for it. I felt such a surreal amount of love from old and familiar friends that it truly made the struggle easier.

“At times I felt that I could almost shift the negative energy when it got so hard. People wanted to reach out and surround Micah and I in so much love and support.”

In the end, she wrote the blog as a way to show others that she is transparent and honest about her diagnosis. She did it to show that she has some control.

“It’s been good to look back and say, ‘that person did all that,’” said Teruya. “It’s easy to minimize what you go through, but it’s important to reflect and be proud of it. I have a lot of friends my age that say, ‘I’ll wait.’ I tell them, ‘you don’t have to wait to have a terminal illness to live your dreams. There are so many things that cancer does not have to take, and if you’re persistent you can still grow and learn new things and focus on what you can do,” said Teruya.

She concludes one blog entry with this: “I want to see it all. And to be honest, it I die, and cancer gets the best of me I don’t need someone telling my story wrong.”



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