Author On the Bookcase: Karen Lee Sobol

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Twelve Weeks


Please welcome Karen Lee Sobol, author and illustrator of Twelve Weeks: An Artist’s Story of Cancer, Healing, and Hope to On the Bookcase!




“Why am I still here?”

When this question entered my mind, the answer followed at once.

“Write a book.  Try to have my experience be useful to others.”

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In 2005 I received shocking news.  Waldenstrom’s macroglubulinemia, a blood cancer, raged through me.  “Rare and incurable” defined it.  Paralyzed with terror, I had this advice from a friend:  “When you’re drowning in quicksand, reach for a different branch.”

Luckily, different branches began to appear in many forms.  A Chinese herbalist and a kind stranger urged me to explore treatment options and to trust myself.   A grandmother sent a tape about the mind-body connection. My husband found the physician who is the world’s expert on this lymphoma and who saw me as a person first, then as a patient.  I learned all I could about the disease, approved treatments, and experimental ones.  My background in architecture came into play, and I decided to manage the sickness like a project.

Hope banished fright.  Not sure which moment might be my last, I began to truly live in the present.

Medicine, like art, is in large part a creative process.  The physician might begin with a mysterious substance in a test tube; the artist might begin with a blank canvas and a set of paints.  At the outset, each has an idea about a desired result, but neither is quite sure how to achieve it, much less what might happen along the way.

My journey from sickness back to health was a creative process, too.  We—my family and I—faced hard choices. Were the potential benefits of enrolling in a clinical trial with an experimental, biology-based drug worth the formidable risks?  Was I willing to experiment with my life?  My decision:  I would place myself in the test tube.

There is no doubt that the drug, and a superb medical team, annihilated the cancer.  I also believe that holistic healing techniques supported my body and my mind, and contributed to my recovery.  Through every phase, meditation anchored me.  My mantra became “I am healthy and cancer-free.”  I stated this in the present, and I felt it as if it were already true.  Over time, I became cancer-free.  My cure marks a breakthrough in medical science.

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With infinite gratitude, I posed a question to my physician.  “How can I help you, who have helped me so much?”

His answer was immediate.  “Clinical trials.  We need more people to be willing to enroll in them.  It’s the only way we can advance the science.”  His response may have been a subconscious motivator.  Writing this book became my next project, with its own creative process.

Twelve Weeks seemed the logical title to choose since that was the time frame of the clinical trial in which I participated. People ask if writing was therapeutic; was it part of the healing?  Because I’m so fortunate, I feel it was a moral mandate, the right thing to do.

As my health declined, then gradually returned, in my art studio I expressed unspeakable emotions, as well as humor and beauty.  Images of my drawings, paintings, collages, and sculptures complement the text.

For the general reader, Twelve Weeks is a compelling tale.  For book groups, it provides a platform for multi-tiered conversations about one of life’s toughest challenges.

Valuable as a medical, emotional, and spiritual guide for people experiencing cancer, treating it, or seeking to cure it, the book offers both information and inspiration.  I’m happy to tell you that Twelve Weeks is making a difference in people’s lives.

To learn more, and for book group discussion questions, please visit

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Karen SobolKaren Lee Sobol is a painter, printmaker and sculptor. An alumna of Radcliffe College and the Harvard Graduate School of Design, she has studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Karen Lee is a board member of the New England Aquarium and the Institute for Health and the Global Environment. As an advocate for the Bing Center for Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, she supports education and research and speaks regularly to share her story of healing and hope.


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