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Cranberry woman stays positive in battle with leukemia

| Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
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Karen Raman, of Cranberry Township, who was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia in 1991, has managed her condition for more than two decades thanks to treatment, blood transfusions and a positive outlook on life. A blood drive in her name is being held at Cranberry Community United Presbyterian Church on Sunday, Dec. 8, from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Cancer might kill a body's cells, but it can't destroy a positive spirit.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or CLL, has been Karen Raman's challenge since 1991. The Cranberry Township resident was diagnosed with the disease as she and her husband were trying to conceive a child. Blood work showed the CLL's arrival. Now at 57 and with a 20-year-old daughter, Raman continues her treatments.

A Central Blood Bank blood drive will be held Sunday, Dec. 8, from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in her honor at Cranberry Community United Presbyterian Church, 2662 Rochester Road. Donations will replenish the supply of blood that has kept Raman going these last few years. Walk-ins are welcome.

“It was ‘the old man's disease,' and I was a young woman,” she said. “I wanted to know if I was going to be able to have a child and live a long life.”

Raman was relieved to learn her CLL wasn't acute, and there were drugs to treat it.

Her first stem-cell transplant came in December 2002. Then, for seven years and three months she was disease free.

Fatigue, one of the symptoms, was evidence the CLL had returned.

“I was exhausted,” Raman said, after traveling to a family wedding in London in November 2009. “The disease never let up after the holidays.”

A bone-marrow biopsy determined the disease was at Stage 4.

“Every symptom I could have had, I had.”

In addition to the constant tiredness, CLL's other symptoms are elevated white cell count, enlarged lymph nodes and spleen, and a very weak immune system.

In June 2011, another stem-cell transplant from an anonymous donor was performed.

But in light of her physical problems, she stays optimistic, watching the research.

“When I was first diagnosed, there wasn't a chemo drug for it,” she said.

This summer, she spent a month in the hospital after pneumonia struck, followed by kidney and acute heart failure. She has gotten weekly blood tests since Aug. 28 and visits her doctor each month for checkups. Ten different prescriptions keep the disease at bay.

“I feel better now than in the last four years,” she said.

She exercises on a treadmill each day, watches her diet and has found she is sleeping better through the night.

Chemotherapy, which took her hair four times, also impaired her vision. But with new glasses, she can get back to reading and sewing.

She plans to make a series of wall hangings for the T7 unit, West Penn Hospital's Hematology/Oncology Patient Care wing in Bloomfield, where she's spent so much time.

“I have faith in my doctors, faith in God and faith in the decisions I'm making,” she explained. She and her husband research each new step in her treatment.

“I know there's something on the horizon. It's not a hopeless thing like it used to be.”

To make a blood donation in Raman's name, visit www.centralbloodbank.org and search with sponsor code G0010186.

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or ddreeland@tribweb.com.

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