Karla Reyes is one of three North Shore Elder Services’ Geriatric Support Services Coordinators (GSSC) for the Commonwealth Care Alliance (CCA) Senior Care Options program (SCO). The GSSCs partner with the SCO Nurse Case Managers in performing bi-annual needs assessments to develop and update care and service plans to meet the member’s healthcare needs. The GSSC is responsible for coordinating the support services and providing social service assistance to members. What Karla brings to this role of GSSC is the strength of a fighter; the strength of a cancer survivor; the strength to give to others.
“It’s the gift I got from cancer. I see cancer as a positive experience. I went through it and I take the positive from it. The experience of cancer can give people skills to live well and to making a better life.”
It was April 2014 when Karla was diagnosed with stage 3 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of twenty-nine. The previous year had brought great joy to her and husband Ruthier with the birth of their son. Now life as she knew it was forever changed.
Karla received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology in the Dominican Republic, her birthplace. She spent a year in Argentina upon finishing her undergraduate program and then came to join her family who had already relocated to Massachusetts. Eager to further her education, Karla enrolled in a Master’s program in Mental Health Counseling at Cambridge College while working as a Case Manager for Arbour Counseling.
The lump she discovered on her neck in January 2014 did not initially alarm anyone; until it was removed and then cancer became the new reality. The disease turned her and her husband’s lives upside down and put a halt to her dreams of completing her Master’s degree. It was September of 2014 that Karla finished the last of her chemotherapy treatments and the fight to recover began. Karla describes the hardest part as getting emotionally healthy again. The ups and downs of numerous appointments with doctors and further tests to monitor the cancer will take a toll on one’s psyche. “It starts with the negative thoughts of ‘what if I have cancer again’. I think a lot about cancer in the days leading up to an appointment. I can feel sad, even depressed. But I am doing better at letting it go after a few weeks. I see a therapist to help me through this process and that is helping make me stronger.”
Chemotherapy left Karla depleted of energy and depressed. She had gained weight and was eating poorly. It was January of 2015 when she awakened to the notion that she needed to make changes to her diet and include exercise in her life if she wanted to regain the body she had before cancer. Fortunately, Karla’s brother is a personal trainer. With his encouragement and support she began an exercise regimen which included an early morning workout at a gym with her brother faithfully at her side each day for many months.
Karla’s brother urged her to start running and it was in May of 2015, less than five months from the start of her training, that Karla successfully ran her first 5K race. “I thought of running as a good cause to support those fighting cancer and even though it was tough, I felt so good.” Her accomplishment convinced her to continue running and this past May, twenty pounds lighter, she once again ran the same 5K race she had started with.
“Now I am able to notice how well I have been doing and how much I have progressed. Even though I had cancer and I was sick, now I am healthier and happier than before. If I was able to get better and to overcome all the negatives that cancer brought into my life, I am certain that anyone could do it. I was strong back then, but now I am unstoppable. My next step will be to run a half-marathon in October this year.”
These days Karla is working hard and is busier than ever. She resumed her Master’s program and will complete it by December 2016. As part of her Master’s program, she has been interning as a Mental Health Counselor twenty hours a week for Arbour Counseling. She has also been studying in preparation to test for her Social Worker License. In between all that, Karla has also been preparing for obtaining her United States citizenship.
There is no question that cancer has changed Karla. She uses that experience to better help her clients. “I will disclose my story sometimes – as a way to give that person some strength. I use one question; what are YOU doing for yourself? Let’s start there in overcoming health problems.”
Karla appreciates living in the present moment. “I see other people’s problems not as severe as they may see them. I try to help them value what they have and assure them that there are solutions and together we will solve them. I give them hope because as long as there is hope, you can fight.”
Karla lives by example. She believes in hard work and sacrifice. She claims her health as her responsibility and focuses on those things in her control. “I have to live my life now so that I won’t get cancer again. That’s why I am trying to do good things – to live a good life.”
Whenever Karla is ready to run that half-marathon, she’ll have many admirers cheering her over the finish line and onto another victory. For Karla, nothing is impossible when you fight for it.
*Along with Commonwealth Care Alliance, there are four additional SCO programs; Tufts Health Plan, Fallon Health NaviCare, United Healthcare, and Senior Whole Health. If you would like to know more about the Senior Care Options program (SCO), contact Information Services at North Shore Elder Services. SCO is a MassHealth program which provides both health services and social support services. To be eligible, members need to have MassHealth Standard, be aged sixty-five or older, and opt into the SCO enrollment. SCO membership means no out-of-pocket costs, including no premiums, no co-pays and no deductibles for any medical care, prescriptions and support services as long as the member uses doctors in the SCO network.