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Published on April 23, 2018

Karen Kayl and team

Pink Ladies: Where Are They Now? Karen Kayl

If you ask Karen Kayl her age, she’ll likely tell you.

“I’ve learned that every birthday is a gift, so I’m never shy about telling others my age.” As a breast cancer survivor, she knows what it’s like to face a difficult diagnosis that could have cut her life short.

At age 38 – even before annual mammograms began for her – Kayl had noticed a subtle change in her breast. “During my annual appointment, it seemed like an angel nudged me to mention it to my doctor. It seemed so minor, I almost didn’t. I figured if there was no pain and no palpable lump, there was nothing to worry about.”

Yet that odd sensation ended up being HER2-positive breast cancer. “I was given the news that no one wants to hear. Although it was caught at stage I, receptors were moving out into my body,” she said.

At the time, her perception was that her chances of dying had increased exponentially. “It’s so treatable but it’s still so scary.”

Standard treatment for her diagnosis involved a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and Herceptin infusions. Kayl’s good news is that she’s never had a recurrence of cancer. “I’m healthy and living a blessed life.”

As a middle school teacher at Patrick Henry School in Sioux Falls, Kayl had been on Judy Davis’ team at the Avera Race Against Breast Cancer for about five years before she was diagnosed. Davis was among the first Avera Pink Ladies and the Race was started in her honor 30 years ago.

“It’s funny how life turns around,” she said. Around the time of Davis’ retirement from teaching, Kayl was diagnosed. “So I picked up the torch and have continued to have a team that involves staff and students.”

The Race is a day like none other. “It’s just so empowering to see people banding together in support of breast cancer. I’m just so glad to be a part of it. Words can’t describe how it feels to see the masses of people who are out supporting us.”

The Avera Race raises funds for projects such as mammography screening, genetic testing, clinical trials, patient navigation services, survivorship programs, Avera’s wig program, integrative medicine and patient education.

“When you have breast cancer, your whole life is kicked off course for awhile,” she said. “When I was going through treatment I benefited from the wig program, the cancer fitness program and support groups.” Because such programs helped her, Kayl loves to see other women benefiting as well.

“I’m here today because of the advanced treatment that Avera is able to provide for breast cancer. And I live as healthy as I do because of programs like the cancer fitness program and learning the whole mind-body connection,” Kayl said.

Having “been there” herself, Kayl welcomes opportunities to reach out to others who are going through cancer. “My own little motto that helps me keep life in balance is ‘I have been given life. So, I will do things to help others because I can!’”

Kayl remembers stepping into the Avera Race Survivor Pavilion the first time. “I was overcome with so many emotions, knowing I made it through the worst part and I was into the next phase of my survivorship. So, I am blessed to give back to others having to go through cancer to help them feel extra welcome on the day of the Race.”

The experience of breast cancer has given Kayl much more perspective about the important things in life and not taking little things for granted, she says. “I was given a second chance at life.”

The 30th Avera Race Against Breast Cancer will be Saturday, May 12. To learn more or register, go to

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