Monday, April 30, 2012

The journey ends

Hi faithful followers of Karen's finding humour in my tumour blog.  For those who don't know -  Karen lost her battle with her tumour on Easter Monday night April 9th, 2012

She had been in hospitalised a week after her last post as the cancer was aggrivating her central nervous system and she could not longer walk and had minimal strength in both her upper and lower body.

Karen's condition worsened slowly over the last few weeks and throughout her treatment she and we her family were ever hopeful.  They changed her treatment plan midway as they feared the original one was not working.  Her stay in hospital was filled with visitors, watching MKR, using her phone to keep in touch with as many people as possible until she could not longer text. 

She was brave and strong and I don't believe she was scared.  It was Good Friday when it was obvious to us her last chance treatment was not working and by Sunday morning she was sleeping without waking up.

Her last night was Monday night and all her family and dearest friends were around her.  We had dinner, some wine and sat around her chatting about her and remembering the better times.  It felt like the last group of "stayers" after a great party all sitting around the table.  I didn't think she would go with a party going on around her.  We had to leave the room for the nurses to tend to her and when we got back she had turned her final corner and with us all there around her she passed away peacefully after only a few minutes.

Her funeral was on the Friday 13th April and was a great celebration of her life. She had lived 2 lives in her 37 years and had had a great time.  I don't feel she would have had many regrets.
Over 500 people came to say goodbye.  Greg Holmes walked her down the aisle as a pall bearer for her.  Expresso Martinis were served at her wake.  I helped my brother Shaun organise the funeral and wake and know she would have been happy!

I am Lisa, her sister and have been overwhelmed by how she touched so many people throughout her life - through her day to day interactions, inspiration and this blog.

Thanks to everyone who has been so supportive and kind to us over these last few weeks - they have been hard and the hard times are not over.

I am running in the Mother's Day Classic in her honour this year  and from next year I will organise a team to walk for the Mother's Day Classic - with our Mother and her army of friends.  I will keep her facebook account alive to communicate with her army.
If you would like to donate to Chicks in Pink to help support breast cancer sufferers like Karen please go to

I have posted her eulogy written by our older brother, Shaun and then by Sam Miller - her friend who represents her Army of friends.

If anyone needs to contact her family - please contact me Lisa Lum, on

Thank you,


Whenever I have been called upon to say a few words at a wedding or a birthday, I would always run my speech past Karen. I could always rely on her to give me her honest opinion, so I hope she approves of this one.

If there ever was an emotive speech to deliver or story to be read, in our family, Karen was the only one with enough composure to bring it home. However, I think Karen would say on  this occasion, ‘this is a very cry worthy situation and it is definitely worth a tear or two million.’

Karen was born on the 11th of September at the Mater Mother’s, the youngest of four children. Karen was always our baby sister and she enjoyed a very close relationship with each of her siblings.

We had an idyllic upbringing. We had many days playing together in the backyard or the pool, mum cooking big family dinners and we were treated to long beach holidays. Karen used to ride to the Coast in the boot of Dad’s station wagon with the luggage and the dog. Her mode of transport changed since, Karen bought her own car and rode in the driver’s seat with the dog.

Karen attended primary school where she made many friends for herself and her parents. She often fondly recalled learning about the titanic in year 3 and later on she submitted an essay called ‘No drums and no trumpets’. You would think a statement about Karen’s attitude towards people ‘banging on’ or ‘trumpeting themselves’. But no, it was a story about the mysterious murder of Shirley Shirley and just didn’t feature a drum or a trumpet.

She then went on to an all girls high school, where she learnt the value of true friendship, loyalty and acceptance and Sam Miller will speak about those days in a moment.

Following school, Karen commenced her chef’s apprenticeship  and went on to complete her training successfully. The hours were long and included weekend nights. So totally un Karen. She had said that her intensive training had drained her love of cooking. Ironically later on, Karen was to become a huge fan and discerning judge of Master Chef and My Kitchen rules. Watching MKR became such an important part of her evening routine in her final weeks. Karen never cooked much at home; I suspect she didn’t like the high pressure of Mum’s Kitchen’s Rules.

Karen then made a brave move to opt out of cooking and went back to school externally. With the support of Mum and Dad, she was able to gain a place to study in Marketing and Public relations. She earned her degree and gained employment there for a while.

Karen then got a job with an international recruitment agency. Her talents were soon recognised there and she was selected to be in their world wide top 50 recruiters which was a tremendous honour and was sponsored to a conference in Cambodia.

Karen always lived her life in the moment, she lived fully, she lived freely and she was comfortable in her own skin. She was not encumbered by a mortgage, was unconcerned by her finances and she had a job that she enjoyed. She was loved by her family, her army of friends and her colleagues.

Karen was devoted her nephews and nieces as if they were her own children. I am sure they will greatly miss their Aunty Karen. She deeply mourned the loss of her new baby nephew, who she’ll now be united with in heaven.

Karen loved her dog. Not everyone, including me, thought that cleaning up poop was a great thing to be doing whilst on chemo, but in the end he was a great companion and comfort to Karen.

Karen was the life of the party. Her confident vibrant nature and smile would light up the room. She could put people at ease with a friendly comment or a kind gesture. She was very funny.  Her wit could be very dry or self deprecating and she had that big loud crazy laugh. Making friends came easily Karen but she treasured each friendship. Whenever you had a conversation with Karen, you had a sense that she was with you, that she was listening and that she really cared. She was always at the ready to offer a shoulder to cry on, comforting words or wise counsel. She literally would drive thousands of kilometres to offer practical assistance to any of her close friends and family in need. She also helped feed the homeless at St Vincent de Pauls kitchen, provided counselling at the refugee centre and took meals to Brisbane’s flooded.

Karen was stylish; she loved designer clothes and shoes. I am told that she had a pair of Fendy shoes that despite the discomfort they caused, were her favourites. The point of putting up with that is little lost on me. Karen was merciless with her critique of my own fashion sense, particularly my recently retired pair of circa 1990’s aviator sun glasses.

Karen was fearless. I recently reminisced with Karen about one trip up the coast we did together. Unfortunately, half the way up the Bruce, I ran out of petrol. It was in the days before any of us had mobile phones. After politely informing me that she regretted my oversight, she promptly turned on her heal, took a few paces up the road, stuck out her thumb and hitched a lift with a passing car. At that moment, I was wondering how I would explain this to mum and was quite relieved when she reappeared some time later with a RACQ van.

Karen loved to travel. She was charged with escorting my Grandmother’s ashes to South Africa and was going to be funded for the journey. Karen being Karen booked an around the world ticket to Africa via the US, Canada and London. Apparently, they had a ball. If Granny can guide her through Johannesburg airport, the Pearly gates will be easy.

Sadly, soon after another trip away, this time to South America’s Inca trail, Karen’s life imploded with the discovery of a breast lump which turned out to be cancer. She wasn’t sure what was worse at the time, the diagnosis or Lisa in an attempt to cheer her up, took her to see the movie, Twilight.

Karen’s subsequent surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy were a tremendous ordeal for Karen, our family and particularly my mother. When her hair fell out Karen was devastated. However, she was able to soon see the funny side and she planted a picture of Kojak on her facebook page. However, not so funny was when dad would get the two of us mixed up. Karen carried her families and friends worries with her optimism and wry sense of humour. Karen was able continue to work in the weeks between her recovery week and more chemotherapy. She reclaimed her social life and got her eggs harvested with hopes for starting her own a family sometime in the future.

Her wit and determination have been captured forever in her Blog ‘Finding Humour in my tumour’.  It featured as the cover story on the Brisbane’s City News Magazine (Karen looked very cool on the cover), and the ABC website’s Health section. I am sure it inspired many women fighting breast cancer, particularly single women, as well as her family and friends.

Many of us will remember how Karen often delighted in playing the Cancer Card. It would guarantee her the front seat of the car, get her out of washing up after Christmas dinner and she used it to get her a picture with Alf from Home and Away.

Karen was a mad Reds fan before it was fashionable and she never missed a game. Her favourite player for many years was Greg Holmes. She greatly admired his loyalty to Queensland and his ability to smash ‘em. I remember when she attended their last game at Ballymore, it was raining and muddy. It was just a few days post a round of chemotherapy, her immunity was low, she had a fever and mum was unable to persuade her to stay home. As I said, Mad. Over the years, I think she was just as passionate about the 3rd half in the corner bar and then to the 4th on Caxton Street.

Unfortunately, just as Karen was finishing her chemotherapy, the Global Financial crisis saw the end of her Brisbane office, and Karen was out of a job. Karen climbed out of her sick bed and attended about 10 job interviews before she was employed by the Specialist recruiting firm. . Her employers and the whole team clearly loved Karen. They regarded her as a dedicated, enthusiastic and intelligent team member. They tell me her quick wit and charm engaged the most discerning executive and would often lead to a successful hunt.  I understand she entertained the team each morning with tales of her nocturnal adventures; such as Tuesday trivia, Thursday Bundy’s, and Friday’s Expresso Martini’s.

Towards the end of last year, Karen’s Portacath was removed. This was a device via which her chemotherapy could be delivered. Her hair was growing long again and things were returning to some normality. A bit niggling neck discomfort and a sudden severe headache and nausea was the result of the cancer spreading to her brain which required urgent surgery. Brave Karen bounced back from the surgery remarkably quickly and she was released from hospital in a few days.

A major highlight for Karen, in what turned out to be her last weeks of reasonable health, came just a few days following her homecoming. A friend had organised a surprise guest for morning tea. Karen writes in her blog ‘when the doorbell rang, I almost fell over to find Greg Holmes in the doorway with flowers. It was one of those rare moments in my life when I was stuck for words. My feelings were a mixture of complete shock and relief that it wasn’t Alf from Home and Away. Greg was the perfect gentleman but I felt like a bit of a fraud because I didn’t feel sick enough to warrant such a visit.’ Greg Holmes is here today, and I thank him for what he did for Karen.

Tragically, the cancer had quickly reappeared and spread through her spinal cord. She lost her mobility to walk and use her left arm. A new type of treatment brought pause to the advancing disease temporarily and thankfully spared her famous texting thumb which maintained her contact with the outside world. In her final weeks, Karen always maintained her optimism, grace and dignity despite increasing discomfort and disability.

I am absolutely devastated by the loss of my sister Karen. She has gone too soon.

However, there are many things that I think we can be thankful for.

I am thankful for Karen’s thumb

That we got to see the Reds win the final and celebrate together.

That Karen found the humour in her tumour

The tidal waves love and tangible support Karen and our family have received over the past 2 years, from Karen’s army of friends, friends of the family and the Church Community.

The precious time we had with Karen and the great memories we have to cherish.

That she knew how much she was loved by her family and all of her friends.

That we had time we had to say goodbye. That nothing was left unsaid, no emotion left unconveyed, that Karen’s suffering has come to an end and that she is now resting in Heaven.

I am also thankful for;

Mum’s incredible resilience and strength that enabled her to be in the trenches with Karen for every step of her struggle.

And For Dad’s unyielding belief that Karen would be okay. Indeed he was right.

I was there with Karen during her last evening on earth. The atmosphere was like being with the stayers at the end of a party. Karen was surrounded by her immediate family, Father Jerome, three of her closest friends, mellow music, pizza and wine. The lights were dimmed and there was the hum of good conversation (mostly Karen stories). I am sure she loved her send off. Typically Karen didn’t leave when it was time, she waited until well after the oldies had left and the youngies were tiring. She held out for one more break through cocktail and then she was gone.

Karen will be forever young and forever beautiful. We will miss her terribly.
 Eulogy - by Sam Miller
Thanks Shaun, my name is Sam Miller,
I have been friends with Karen since grade 8 at Loreto where we bonded outside the Home economics classroom, by outside I mean literally, we were banished outside, due our Mothers sewing our animal print pants and us having to unpick the pants, which took an entire term.
Today the Pandy family asked me to represent a very important part of Karen’s life, her friends. I stand up here, representing the “Army” of friends that have gathered today, not to mention her 299 Facebook friends that Karen treasured and loved during her 37 years of life.
I can honestly say I’ve never meant anyone with so many friends, but my dear loyal troops, you were all so important to Karen, in so many ways. During the past few years she thrived on your love and support.
I’d like to start off by given an insight into what you all meant to Karen. She would always talk to me about her friends – new and old. She would never just say “Mary and I”, she would say “My Friend Mary and I went to lunch for 3 hours and we talked for a further 3 hours”, hmm the talking for 3 hours never surprised me, but I often felt guilty that I didn’t know - my friend Mary - as she would be very important to Karen.  But I realized over the years for Karen using the word friend was her way of connecting with people, it put the relationship at that special level, you had Karen’s respect and she valued you.
Having so many friends was a gift for Karen, she was so open to meeting new people and was so warm and comfortable with them.  Her social network was huge, in her blog she would mention how wonderful it was to know that so many people loved and supported her and this kept her going on many of her dark days.  She took great joy in the diverse range of friends she had acquired and loved organizing events each weekend, many of which became adventures. This was exciting to her and made her life so full.  She would go out at least 3-4 times a week, which would exhaust a normal person, but not Karen, I think this is why she was the faster texter in Australia, when you have over 300 contacts to keep up with you need to be able to text quickly! We are not the only ones to notice her phone lovathon, My 6 year old daughter made a comment yesterday that she hopes Aunty Karen can take her phone to Heaven, so she can text her to see what it’s like!
I always felt she loved having so many people whom she connected with and who could share many moments with her. This was Karen’s life and that’s why friends were such an integral part of who she was.
I remember her 354h birthday party, it was more than just a birthday it was a celebration of her strength and courage with her battle against breast cancer. The preparations began and the arduous task of who to invite was an initial issue.  From memory, it was a decided a smaller party would be best, for most people that would be 20-30 people for Karen it was 90 of her closest friends.
With the arrival of Barney social events were now scheduled around the outings to  dog parks. The inseparable pair held ‘rock star status’ on Brisbane roads, driving around in Cookie with this Hairy horse. It was a sight to be seen, with Karen trying to restrain Barney, which was a difficult task while driving, in many cases people would take photos because it looked like Barney was driving!
 In my mind, being Karen Pandy’s friend is a special privilege that we all enjoyed. Which brings me to the second part of my speech today, what it meant to have Karen as a friend.
 The wonderful Ann-Maree, summed it up beautifully, she is the benchmark of a Best friend. You often hear people talking about having a good friend and what they have done that makes them special, then someone might trump them with another friends good deeds but as Ann-Maree pointed out, no one can trump Karen as a friend – she was the benchmark friend, the friend of the highest standard. There are so many stories of Karen being there for people in times of need that it would take me 2 hours to get through!
But I would like to bring up a few; the first one that comes to mind is a story Karen’s faithful friend Karyn told. It was during the Brisbane floods and it was mayhem, traffic was a nightmare, Karyn and Mark had just renovated their lovely home at Graceville and the floods had hit them badly. The first thing that Karen did was jump into Cookie to try and help, it was an ordeal, a 3 hour journey, but this didn’t deter Karen, she never once thought about turning around, she wanted to be there to help her friend.
Ann-Maree talked about the time Karen flew to Sydney to be by Ann-Maree’s side, Karen had just finished a round of chemo and was very ill but nothing was going to stop her support her friend at this time.
Karen was the best person to pick you up again, her magic smile would light up your heart instantly and her razor sharp wit was the best cure for any situation. Sometimes that wit was so fast I would be laughing at the first one liner and miss the others, one day she said to me, “Mate, keep up, your missing some of my best work.”
 This benchmark of friendship became the norm for my family. As you all know Karen was an awesome chef, she had that acute ability to taste and smell everything item that was in a dish. She shared this love of food with my husband who is also a chef. One day Karen received the emergency call from Steve, in Steve’s true Gordan Ramsay style he yelled down the phone “ Pandy get here now I’ve burnt the cake” Karen raced down to our house, she entered the kitchen and with a sigh of relief my mother in law said to everyone,  “the bridesmaid to the rescue” And Karen replied, “ I didn’t know it was a job for life!”
 But that’s what Karen did.
 Her charm and vivaciousness was one of the best things, I loved about Karen.
Karen’s greatest Love

On behalf of the army of friends I’d like to finish today by talking about Karen’s greatest love, her family.  Everyone hear today would know something special about a member of the Pandy family. One of her favorites was her mock disappointment when George, her nephew, became old enough to realize that his aunt couldn't be his girlfriend!
 To Craig, Shaun and Lisa, she absolutely loved having you three as her siblings.
 She had a special bond and love for each of you.
 Craig, she idolized you, were always the big brother.
 Shaun or Shaz bootie she had a special connection with you on so many levels, you were the voice of reason.
 Lisa she adored you, she would have been so proud of you over the past month, I remembered she used the words “remarkable” to describe your love and support.
She treasured all the little bits of the kid lives that are important to parents but they were also an essential part of Karen’s life.
 And finally to Helene and Geoff, your relationship with Karen is best summed up with her extended time living at home.
 I would often ask, “don’t you want to move out”
 and she would reply, “Why? My parents don’t annoy me!”
 She loved and admired their marriage, she would say after 40 years my parents still go on date nights. She said that her parent’s relationship with each other was what she felt love should be and she would never settle for anything less.  As Karen became more ill she said that the best thing in the world is a hug from your mum or dad.
 She was a great mate with Geoff, she was his protector, although not a fan of his jokes! Helene she loved your outlook on life, she loved your food, she loved your laughter, she loved your kindness, she was fully aware of your loss earlier in your life and how you nourished and loved your children. Over the past few months, Karen would often mention how awesome, amazing and brilliant you were during this time that she loved you and Geoff so much.
I would like to make a pledge on behalf of the army that we will continue to support the Pandy family just as Karen supported all of us.
 And finally I would like to finish with one of Karen’s wishes for today.  Many years ago, prior to Karen having breast cancer, Ann-Maree and Karen had a random conversation and it went like this:
 Karen asked, “ Ann-Maree what would say at my funeral?”
Ann-Maree responded with surprise and dismay,  “why would I be at your funeral?”
 Then Ann-Maree paused and thought for a minute, and then asked,” Well, what would you say at my funeral?”
Karen replied quickly  “Nothing why would I be at your funeral?”
 10 minutes passed and out of the blue, in the middle of a different topic, Karen said ”But if you had to be at my funeral, make sure you remind everybody how long and thin my legs were.”
 My friend Karen, with the long thin legs, you will be missed.


  1. RIP Karen. What a most beautiful post Lisa. You have just done a wonderful job with this. I didn't meet Karen but was going through breast cancer treatment at the same time and she connected with me via my blog. I'm so sorry for your loss; so devastating for you all. May you all live long and healthy lives and thank you for sharing this with us; it is just beautiful and has brought tears to my eyes! Susie x


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