Karen Schnelle-Marrello remembers the look on her physician’s face as he reviewed her CAT scan results.
“You know you’re in deep water when the doctor’s face falls when he’s looking at the CAT scan,” Schnelle-Marrello said.
The lifelong Worth resident had the test after antibiotics and a steroids did nothing to relieve what she believed was a sinus infection.
The CAT scan, however, revealed that Schnelle-Marrello was dealing with a condition far more serious that a sinus infection. Instead, the mother of six had a cancerous tumor behind her right eye.
Her doctor told initially told her the growth might not be cancerous, but Schnelle-Marrello believed otherwise.
“I knew in my gut we were dealing with the bad one,” she said.
A biopsy revealed that Schnelle-Marrello had esthesioneuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer involving the nasal cavity, which can lead to loss of vision and taste.
Schnelle-Marrello underwent a 14-hour surgery just days after the diagnosis. The surgery was a success, but the pain during recovery was intense, she recalled. Nine days later, she lapsed into a coma after he brain shifted to the rear of her skull.
She awoke from the coma, but then faced four months of rigorous radiation and chemotherapy designed to destroy the small portion of the tumor not removed during surgery, she said.
Four months later, Schnelle-Marrello is doing well and is anxious to complete her recovery.
To help offset expenses, Schnelle-Marrello’s friends and family will hold a benefit, Kicking It With Karen, from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday at the Chieftain Irish Bar, 6906 W. 111th St., Worth.
Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children under 12. The event will feature two bands, food, games and raffles.
Monetary donations can be sent to Private Bank, 6825 W. 111th St., Worth, Ill., 60482.
“The bills are astronomical,” said Colleen McElroy, a friend of Schnelle-Marrello and a Worth trustee.
Schnelle-Marrello struggles with side effects, such as nausea and fatigue, and “my eyes no longer function together,” she said.
“I’m holding out for a full recovery,” she said.
Surgery, treatment and recovery have been costly. Insurance did not cover all of Schnelle-Marrello’s medical costs and she is unable to work during recovery.
But the Worth community rallied behind her since her diagnosis by watching her children, preparing meals and running errands.
“People missed her. The whole community banded together,” said McElroy, a member of the committee that planned the benefit.
McElroy said is impressed with the way her friend handled the diagnosis and ensuing treatment.
“She handled it like a champ,” she said. “Karen is a fighter. She handled it with such grace.”
Schnelle-Marrello said she refused to let the condition defeat her.
“My sense of humor is what got me through this,” she said. “Faith and humor—that’s what did it for me.”
She added that she was not surprised but the support she received from her friends and neighbors.
“It was more humbling than anything else,” she said.