High School Buddies Rally for Their Friend

Karen Harbour

A group of good pals who hung out together and graduated from then Hinsdale Township High School in 1964 formed a committee to host reunion celebrations every five years. That was 54 years ago, and the reunions steadily followed.

Fast forward to 2012 when Karen Harbour, one of those friends, was diagnosed with a clinical Stage 3 locally advanced pancreatic cancer, and this just a few years after her husband died of a sudden heart attack. She sought out NorthShore and its experts for treatment.

She began an extensive protocol of preoperative chemotherapy and radiation followed by surgery with NorthShore’s Mark Talamonti, MD, Chairman of Surgery and the Stanton and Margaret Rogers Palmer Chair of Surgery, leading the NorthShore care team. He told Harbour at the very beginning of her treatment of the long journey ahead: “We’re going to lick this.” He enrolled her in a clinical trial research protocol he was leading at NorthShore. Today, the 71-year-old calls him “my savior.” He also referred her to Alexander Hantel, MD, an oncologist and colleague affiliated with Edward Hospital in Naperville, which was closer to her home. “Together, these two wonderful doctors saved my life,” said Harbour. “I have lived to see my sixth grandchild—an amazing blessing.”

Harbour is also very grateful to her high school friends who got together and donated funds to Dr. Talamonti’s pancreatic cancer research fund. Close friends include Michael and Judy Mason, now retired to Florida, and Jack Ekl, who works for Boeing in South Korea. “Not only is Karen a true fighter, but she is also the kindest and most caring person I have ever met. We are all lucky to have her in our lives. She is my hero,” Ekl said.

“Our group remains close,” Harbour said. “I’m fortunate.”

The friends, though separated by many miles, stay in touch with emails, phone calls and an occasional in-person visit. Michael Mason recalls when Harbour was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and wanted to visit the Masons in a nearby suburb just to say hello.

“The first thing she does when she comes in the door: How are you both doing? We were like ‘Holy cow. She has advanced cancer and she’s worried about us.’ She is definitely not a ‘why me?’ kind of person.”

Harbour still gets regular scans and bloodwork, but is focusing on her six years as a survivor. “I’m one of the lucky ones,” she said.

If you would like more information about supporting advanced treatments and research for pancreatic cancer, please contact John Hanson, PhD, Director of Philanthropy, at 224.364.7208 or jhanson@northshore.org.

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