Dream Big Profile: Karie Schlukebir
Persistence is a word that senior Karie Schlukebir has learned to live by. After being diagnosed with cancer her freshman year, the Indiana women's tennis player has confronted numerous obstacles, both physical and emotional.
Schlukebir's inspiration for tennis began when she was four years old. Her mother, a tennis instructor at the time, fostered Karie's interest in the sport. While she became involved in softball, basketball, dance and swimming, it was tennis that directed her to Indiana University.
A native of Kalamazoo Mich., Karie looked at numerous universities in various parts in the country before realizing she wanted to stay closer to home. "Indiana was actually the last campus visit I went on, and I just fell in love with it. The campus is beautiful and I felt very comfortable with the coach and the girls on the team, which was a big reason I chose IU."
During the winter vacation of her freshman year, Karie visited the doctor to have a mole removed from the hairline on the left side of her neck. She assumed that she was finished with the routine procedure. However, one month later at her first collegiate tennis match, Karie's parents presented her with the alarming news that she was diagnosed with cancer. "Looking back I didn't really understand what it really meant. Of course I was scared, but I didn't understand the extent of what it meant."
The diagnosis meant that Karie had a long road ahead of her, beginning with a return home to undergo surgery at the University of Michigan hospital. This was followed by a treatment plan comprising of one month of high doses of Interferon (a drug that has been used to treat locally advanced or metastatic melanoma), followed by more injections of the drug three times a week for 11 months. This rigorous and stressful treatment forced her to move home, drop all of her classes and kept her from attending Indiana the second semester of her freshman year.
Despite the sacrifices, the treatment seemed to be effective. She returned to school and the tennis team in the fall of her second year at Indiana. Unfortunately, the situation was not yet resolved, as more challenges lay on the horizon.
Just months after returning to IU, Karie visited her home for winter break. Another visit to her doctor yielded a mass on the left side of her neck. The mass was removed but tested positive for melanoma. More detailed scans revealed three spots in lungs. That shocking news forced to suspend her education and say good bye to the team again during the spring semester.
Karie began a program of bio-chemotherapy (a combination of two chemotherapy drugs, along with interleukin, and interferon.) With the treatment only available at two locations in the country, (California and Texas), Karie was constantly travelling between her house in Michigan and the treatment center in California. She completed six rounds of treatment that lasted one week a piece, a span of approximately six months.
Initial scans indicated that Karie's body had defeated its foe. A maintenance program was recommended which involved traveling to California and spending two days in the hospital every two months. During these trips she was administered doses of the same interleukin drug, followed by daily self-injections.
The treatment initially proved to be effective, with Karie's scans returning clear, until she had one melanoma mass removed from the back of right arm near the shoulder. Since the mass had not shown up on any scans she was sent back to California for further tests, which indicated one spot in her right lung that was removed recently.
Despite everything that Karie had to overcome, she has still played two full seasons her third and fourth years and continues to hold an amazingly positive attitude. "Honestly, I don't ever look back and think that I could have been a better tennis player if this hadn't happened to me. If anything, it has probably made me want to play more just because I couldn't and it made me really appreciate when I could play."
"Being on my team helped me through everything because (my teammates) are one of my biggest support groups."
Karie specifically remembers when the entire team visited her during its free weekend while she was going through the bio-chemotherapy treatments. "It was absolutely wonderful because I could not leave home during that time, so it was impossible for me to go down and visit anyone."
"The coaches were great too and I also had five wonderful roommates and two sisters that were a huge support for me as well. Everyone would send me weekly cards, email and phone calls. I actually probably appreciate it more now because it was the little things that touched me the most, knowing that someone is thinking of me."
Through the draining experiences and obstacles that Karie has faced, persistence has kept her positive. "If something gets you down you have to keep going. I'm of the attitude that everything happens for a reason. While I haven't figured out why, it really has made me appreciate life more. And maybe this was meant to happen because it wants me to play tennis more. I'm still playing, and I'm still going to play next year. And I'm just taking it day by day. I guess when adversity hits, it makes you realize what you really want."