Work mixes with visit at new ‘getaway’ spot


By Karen T. Braeckel
HSPA Foundation

My calendar says “write column” – even though I saw my office only once since last month.

Time flies (even when you aren’t having fun).

Usually at this time of the year my family soaks up the sun and surf at Sunset Beach, N.C., a tradition dating back more than two decades.

This year we had a new journey – experienced right here at home as my husband battles pancreatic cancer. Not to be selfish, but I hope you don’t share the same adventure.

First I thank the HSPA staff and both boards for allowing me to take the time I need to be with my family.

Milissa Tuley ran the Road Show for Reporters from the initial planning through the event itself. She and Shawn Goldsby handled the prep for the major awards for the advertising contest and continue to answer members’ questions about the editorial contest along with Yvonne Yeadon.

I play referee only when needed and answer the more obtuse questions.

Steve Key and Pam Lego offer constant support. Not many people have a boss who will bring the office checks you need to sign to the hospital lobby for you.

(We won’t talk about the best example of the HSPA family and what they buried under the snacks in that big red plastic bucket. But I did appreciate the mood-enhancing qualities of the gift and visit – choice of bucket color excluded.)

I spent a lot of time at IUPUI as a graduate student and alum.

I also frequent the Bloomington campus on various boards and projects. Despite the close proximity to the med school, I did not know or think about the talent hidden in those buildings one hopes never to visit.

But, as you know if you read this column, my husband, John, needed an extended stay for surgery.

June 20 we arrived at the Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis at 5:30 a.m. praying for a long day. (A short one meant they simply opened and closed.) God granted our request. John was on the table for 7½ hours.

And we got a little more than expected.

What began as a Whipple procedure – remove the tumor and resect the area near the pancreas – ended up as a total pancreatectomy.

Dr. Michael G. House, a living saint recently canonized by the Braeckel family and surgical oncologist specializing in hepatopancreatobiliary procedures, got the tumor and resected the portal vein but found cancer cells throughout the pancreas.

As he told the students observing, he had no problem deciding between making John diabetic and leaving part of a cancerous organ inside.

We concurred.

After what John calls the 23 worst days of his life, we arrived home July 13 with no tubes or IVs attached – and a truckload of new meds.

We thank God for the skilled hands of a surgeon willing to tackle John’s case.

Right in our state we have a Harvard-, John Hopkins-, Sloan-Kettering-trained physician who does surgeries many won’t touch. We thank God John found symptoms earlier than most. Often pancreatic cancer metastasizes before showing any signs.

I can now offer a whole new series of workshops to anyone interested:

• Living one day at a time

• The new meaning of earth-shattering – and what does not qualify

• Sleeping in a recliner for 20-plus days and living out of your car

• Avoiding hospitalization over July 1 (the date medical fellows change rotations and the newbies start)

• Practicing diabetes manage­­­­­­ment without a license

• Hugging a surgeon who answers emails on his vacation and tells your husband it was a privilege to treat him

• The second thing a Purdue grad can love about IU other than the J School: the Med School.

Thanks for all of your prayers and support. Please keep us on your list as John goes through radiation for the first time and the next rounds of chemo.

Back to business

Please make sure you meet the July 26 deadline for the editorial contest. All entries – both online and mail-ins – must arrive by 5 p.m. Friday, July 26.

Be sure to register by the early-bird deadlines for the circulation (Aug. 23) and advertising (Aug. 30) conferences, both held in September. We will bring in experts in both areas to provide outstanding training at reasonable prices.

Hope everyone enjoys the summer – and assists our young readers by running the free serial stories, pointing parents and teachers to the weekly activities on our NIE webpage, partnering with your local libraries for summer activities, running the reading ads available at and preparing your offerings for schools in a few weeks.

In the meantime I will catch up on some long-overdue thank-you notes for your generous donations to the Foundation.

I plan to return to the office at least part-time next week. In the meantime you can continue to reach me via email:

Karen T. Braeckel is director of the HSPA Foundation. Her column runs in the second issue of each month.