Karin Boyce has dealt with many health issues in her forty-four years. At thirteen, she developed sciatica pain following an afternoon of horseback riding, and was unable to stand upright for two weeks. Around that time, doctors also diagnosed her with endometriosis, a painful gynecological condition.
Her problems with pain had only just begun. At the age of twenty, she spent nearly a year on crutches after developing Osgood-Schlatters syndrome, a knee condition that typically affects adolescents. At the age of twenty-two, Karin was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Although she went into remission after radiation therapy, she developed uterine cancer six years later. Knowing that she wanted to have children, Karin opted to postpone treatments and quickly became pregnant. Her pregnancy was rough. She developed what was first believed to be gestational diabetes, but was later diagnosed as type 1 diabetes.
Following her daughter’s birth in 1990, she finally underwent chemotherapy and radiation, but her cancer did not go into remission. She had a hysterectomy at only twenty-eight.
Immediately after overcoming her second bout of cancer, Karin suffered two herniated discs. This was the beginning of severe back pain problems. Karin’s spine is slowly deteriorating, and she has lost two inches in height in the last two years. She has had a total of thirteen herniated discs and undergone eight back surgeries to help with pinched nerves. After her sixth surgery, her neurosurgeon told her she would have to use a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Karin refused. Six months later, she began using her walker again.
Diabetic neuropathy has left Karin’s right leg with no feeling from the knee down. To correct carpal tunnel and trigger fingers, two common conditions related to diabetic neuropathy, she has had several hand surgeries. Diabetes also caused two strokes in 2004 and 2006. After the first, she lost all feeling on her right side and her face drooped. Luckily, she had no permanent damage from either.
As if these conditions were not enough, Karin has lived with migraines for thirty years, and was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2008. Fibromyalgia affects muscles and soft tissues, causing debilitating pain and chronic fatigue. She takes a lot of medication to keep her pain level between a six and an eight, and practices daily meditation to stay calm. She considers three hours of sleep a lot of rest. On bad days, when her body is hypersensitive and searing in pain, she cannot tolerate the touch of clothes on her skin, so she lies in bed all day with just a sheet covering her body.
Karin’s complex conditions have made an active life impossible. She can no longer camp, jog, swim or ride a horse or motorcycle. She is unable to work. Friends seem unable to understand her pain, and much of her self-confidence is lost. Oftentimes, Karin feels like a burden. She is thankful, however, for her wonderful parents, brother, daughter, foster children, dog and two cats who unconditionally support and love her unconditionally. It is with their encouragement that she has been able to find meaning in life.
In 2009, Karin’s life changed when she received Lucky, her service dog. Lucky is Karin’s saving grace, and Karin is grateful to the people at NEADS (Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans), who recognized that she needed help. It is because of Lucky that Karin can function and live on her own again. Lucky picks up anything she drops, retrieves insulin from the refrigerator, shuts off lights, drags laundry to the laundry room, helps when Karin falls and even manages to find the missing TV remote control.
In turn, caring for Lucky has reignited Karin’s fire to get up, keep moving and participate in life. Lucky needs to eat, walk and get outside, and seeing to his needs helps Karin do the same. Perhaps most importantly, Lucky senses Karin’s mood and recognizes her pain. He is a strong force in her life, bringing comfort, happiness and purpose.
“I wake up and live another day for those around me, for Lucky and for myself. I see there is more help available now than twenty years ago, which gives me hope and faith in the future. I am not going to allow pain to hold me down. Whether I stay in bed or go to the dog park, the pain will be there. Since I know it is a part of my life, I might as well keep going and live.”