Silverthorne resident Karen Ranieri launches breast cancer nonprofit after diagnosis in 2020
Lumihealing is focused on helping those diagnosed with breast cancer recreate in the snow
It’s common to see pink touches on sports uniforms, in store windows and on rubber bracelets during the month of October. Known nationally as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, this time of the year is when organizations large and small put together marketing campaigns and fundraisers in the hopes of spreading information and rallying dollars for research.
To do this, many organizations compile stories of survivors so donors can empathize with the disease. But to some, the term “survivor” doesn’t completely feel like the right word to emphasize.
“Survivorship is really, really hard,” said Silverthorne resident Karen Ranieri. “There isn’t a playbook for it, and it in some ways is even more difficult than active treatment. … It was very hard as a really healthy, young, active individual to now be out of treatment and try to figure out how to rejoin my life. You can’t rejoin your life. It’s not the same. You’re not the same.”
Ranieri said after her diagnosis and after receiving treatment, she wanted to do more than just survive.
“Survivorship becomes this fine line that we have to walk where we want to not be scared of having a recurrence and we want to move forward with our lives, but that’s a difficult thing to do,” she said. “For me, I’ve never really identified with the term ‘survivor.’ I’ve struggled with that term. I really prefer the word ‘thriver.'”
Ranieri said to her, thriving means to constantly grow and heal, and “surviving” doesn’t have quite as hopeful of connotations.
“I feel like surviving is just continuing to live or exist, and I want to do more than just live or exist,” she said.
Ranieri has lived in Summit County for the past six years and currently resides in Silverthorne. She likes to live an active, healthy lifestyle, which is why living in the Rocky Mountains appealed to her.
That healthy life suddenly took a turn during the beginning of the pandemic. Shortly after the community went on lockdown, Ranieri said she was lying down when she noticed a lump. At first, she didn’t think it was cause for concern. She was prone to getting cysts every so often and chalked it up to something harmless and temporary. But a month later, the lump was causing pain. When she called her primary doctor, her physician told her to come to the office within 20 minutes.
In a couple of weeks, Ranieri was at another appointment in Denver, where she first got a mammogram done and then an ultrasound. After a few tests, the results were in: On July 2, 2020, at 41 years old, she was diagnosed with Stage 3A triple-negative breast cancer. This particular type of cancer accounts for 10% to 15% of all breast cancers, according to the American Cancer Society’s website.
It’s considered an aggressive cancer because it grows quickly, is more likely to have spread by the time it’s found and is more likely to come back after treatment than other types of breast cancer. The outlook is generally not as good as it is for other types of breast cancer, according to the society’s website.
By the time of her diagnosis, Ranieri said she was prepared for the news but that it still felt like she had gotten punched in the gut. The next few months were spent in intensive treatment, where she had a bilateral mastectomy in addition to nine rounds of chemo and 25 rounds of radiation. To get her treatment, she split her time between Summit County, where she received chemotherapy, and Edwards, where she received radiation therapy.
It’s now been six months since she’s had any active treatment, and there’s since been no evidence of the disease. Now, as she attempts to regain a sense of normalcy, Ranieri said she’s wanting to change the dialogue on what it means to be a breast cancer survivor.
“One of the hardest things about survivorship is that these programs (that) have been put into place over the last couple of years (are) really stressing eating healthy and exercising,” she said. “And for me, as a young, healthy person who was diagnosed with cancer, it’s a bit confusing because I was healthy before I was diagnosed.”
That’s one of the reasons why she’s launching Lumihealing, a Summit County-based nonprofit she said is “based on creating a space for women with breast cancer to thrive by staying strong with activities that embrace the healing power of snow.”
The nonprofit’s inaugural season will be in 2022. Ranieri’s goal is to host at least three events that are focused on exercising in the snow, whether that’s snowshoeing, sledding or gathering at a local ski resort. For now, the nonprofit will focus on the county, but Ranieri’s vision is to eventually expand to the rest of the state.
Joining her on the venture is Frisco resident Lisa Harper. Harper is an emergency room nurse that splits her time between Summit County and Denver, and she will act as a board member for the nonprofit. In addition to helping getting it off the ground, Harper said she plans to use her background in a supporting role during events.
“On these events, if we go out on a hike or whatever we’re doing, it would be good to have a medical professional there,” Harper said. “… I can be there to help if anyone is feeling lightheaded or dizzy. We can go back to the trailhead. It’s just more for support.”
Lumihealing isn’t the only resource for people with breast cancer coming online soon. Vail Health’s new medical center in Dillon is set to open in November, which will include a Shaw Cancer Center and Breast Imaging Clinic.
To learn more about Lumihealing, visit the nonprofit’s website at Lumihealing.org.
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