September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. This month's inspiring member, Karen Dahl, has dedicated the last two decades and her career to ovarian cancer research, after her mom passed away of the disease when Karen was just 7. One year ago, she became the first member of Onalaska (WI) Moms on the Run when it opened — and credits Moms on the Run for great friendships and accountability — all of which she needed after moving to a new community.
"I started running 10 years ago with my husband as a way to get exercise when we had toddlers," Karen explained. "We have grown into a running family. I may never be a great runner, but it is something that is for me that I can feel good about. I love sharing running with my family, making new running friends, and running races for charities."
Read on to learn a little more about Karen and why she's our inspiring member of the month.
Q: How long have you been a member of Moms on the Run? Were you a runner before? What enticed you to join?
A: I have been an official member of Moms on the Run for just over a year. Our wonderful Coach Chris Davis opened the location here (or tried to — during the spring last year)! I patiently waited until we could finally have classes, which was in the summer. I have been running for about 10 years. My first race was a half marathon in 2011 (this year I ran my 20th half). I trained by running in circles in my basement because I had toddlers at home. I moved to Wisconsin (where I live now) two years ago. I didn't know anyone, and I love running with people and having accountability. Moms on the Run is a perfect fit and much better than running in a basement!
Q: September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. You have dedicated your life to researching ovarian cancer. Please share more about what inspired that career and your hopes for the future.
A: Yes! Cancer has always been a part of my life. My earliest memories are of my mom being treated for cancer when I was two years old. I am a strong believer that we all have a purpose. My mother died of cancer when I was 7 and has served as my inspiration to not only be a mother but to ensure that fewer children have to lose their mom to cancer. I have spent the last 23 years doing cancer research. I earned a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania-Perelman School of Medicine in biomedical research. Since then I have worked as a professor and an independent scientist. Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from a gynecologic cancer. Nearly 80% of women with ovarian cancer have the advanced cancer and very poor chances of survival. While all diseases are important to study, ovarian cancer seemed critical because treatments have not changed much in over 30 years and the survival rates are still very low. We have seen huge advances in many types of cancer (breast, colon, prostate). We can cure more women from ovarian cancer too through more research and educating women on symptoms so they can be treated early if they are diagnosed. Early detection is the key to beating most cancers. My hope is to bring more awareness to this disease and better outcomes for women.
Q: At Moms on the Run, we talk about being MOTRstrong. What does that mean to you?
A: I believe as women, we embody so many types of strength. As a mom, we sacrifice our bodies to bring our children into this world. That sacrifice doesn't end at childbirth. The toll being a mom takes on our sanity, mental/emotional health and our physical health is A LOT. Being MOTRstrong allows us to bond as women, connect mentally and physically, and do something to make our bodies strong. When we are strong for us we are strong for our families and the people around us.
Q: Please tell us a little more about you (your family, your hobbies, etc.)
A: I have been married to my husband Rich for 19 years (he is also a runner/cancer researcher). Actually, our whole family runs. My husband and I started running together 10 years ago. Then we brought our young kids along. My son (Matías) is now a high school sophomore and on the cross-country team. My oldest daughter (Ellie-13) doesn't love to run; she prefers softball, show choir, and baking. My youngest daughter (Rory-8) did her first race (a diaper dash) at 10 months and first 5K at 3 years old. We love to run races as a family. Most recently we did a 4th of July 4 miler. With three kids, my hobbies are taking them to sports and activities. Just trying to soak up the time I have before the teenagers head to college!
Q: Anything else you’d like to share?
A: I am thankful for the wonderful people I have met at MOTR. These are truly the best friends I have made since moving to a new state right before the pandemic hit. I love any organization that supports making women strong — in all aspects. As for me, I am pretty boring. I love my work and hope to some day see real changes in cancer treatment for women. And I love my family and my community.
Onalaska (WI) Moms on the Run Franchise Owner Chris Davis shares: "Karen's story is so inspiring! I told Karen recently if she gets tired of research she can be a stand up comic. She is so funny! She makes us all laugh in class and out of class. If we are all messaging she always has something funny to say. She’s a great mom to her children and I'm so happy she was my first customer."