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November 20 | Karen Lee Sobol, Boston, Massachusetts

Thanksgiving 2020: Home, but not Alone

Has your sense of time shifted lately?  Does avoiding people feel bizarre, and has Purell become your new best friend?  Do you spot beauty in surprising places, and feel the rhythm of your breath inside your mask?

I’ve lived through this before. Then, I was solo. Now, I’m one of seven billion, living through it again, with you. Both times, with little advance notice, a deadly disease became a dire threat. Then, in 2005, I was diagnosed with Waldenstrom's macroglobulinemia, a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma defined as rare and incurable. Now, in 2020, we all risk infection by COVID-19, a wildly contagious novel coronavirus with no known cure. My blood cancer was so rare it’s called an orphan disease. COVID-19 is so universal it’s called a pandemic.

Thinking about the Thanksgiving holiday usually energizes us. Plans often include travel, time with family and friends, and meals shared. This year, the dangers of spreading or contracting COVID-19 trigger anxiety and dread. What to do?

In 2005, I faced a similar dilemma. I was in the midst of a clinical trial with a monoclonal antibody. Because the drug had annihilated my immune system, every germ and virus, whether it came from another person or naturally lived inside my body or on my skin, could pose a lethal threat. I washed and sanitized my hands obsessively and never touched my face. Social isolation was self-protection, so I left home only to go to the hospital or take solitary walks, a scarf wrapped over my nose and mouth. Holding a vision of myself as cancer-free and healthy, as though I already were, I felt that a brighter future was just a matter of time.

In a normal year, my family’s Thanksgiving tradition might start by serving a mid-day meal to guests at a local shelter, then welcoming family and friends to dinner in our home. But for us 2005 was no normal year and exposing me to other people wasn’t an option. Instead, we ordered in dinner for three—my husband, our teen-aged daughter, and me—and felt grateful. We connected with people by phone, and their intangible energy helped sustain my nuclear family through our crisis.

For us all, 2020 is no normal year. Together we face the potentially deadly risk of COVID-19. And we’re tired of social isolation. But what opportunities we have, including the opportunity to keep ourselves, our families, and our friends, safe, and to share our resources more widely.  

Remember what they say before an airplane takes off?  “If the oxygen masks drop down, put your own mask on before assisting others.”  

This Thanksgiving, if you’re lucky enough to have a home, please stay there. Being alone doesn’t have to mean being lonely. Consider safe, helpful ways to support and connect with people. Perhaps order your dinner from a local restaurant to help keep cooks and staff employed. Perhaps donate to a local food bank or shelter so those less fortunate have meals to nourish them. Perhaps, in recognition of the historic roots of the day, contribute to an organization like the Indigenous Environmental Network which provides desperately needed food and emergency COVID-19 relief funds to Native Americans.

With challenge comes opportunity. We have the chance to stem COVID-19’s spread, and we have the chance to spread compassion. Compassion nurtures healing and hope. Its intangible energy creates real results.

When the twelve weeks of my clinical trial ended, I was frail and exhausted, but signs of cancer had decreased dramatically, and five months later, the disease was gone. It took two years and four months for my immune system to rebuild and I was able to resume normal life. With the welcome news that a vaccine will likely be available within the next few months, I feel optimistic that our collective timeline will be much shorter. 

I believe in medical science and in the power of holding a vision of good health. Now, as then, I think of my favorite equation ever: Hope = Belief + Expectation. I believe, and I fully expect, we can and we will stop COVID-19.

Imagine a world free of COVID-19 as if it already exists, and hold this vision with me. Imagine a world in which we care for ourselves and each other as one family.

Now expand the vision to embrace the planet. If we actively protect and preserve biodiversity—earth’s wondrously varied habitats and the countless species who thrive in them—we take a giant step to keeping hundreds of thousands of viruses in the plant and animal kingdoms where they belong, and where they won’t leap to us.

Now we know. Good health is global health.

April 22 | Boston, Massachusetts | Interview with Dr. Steven Treon on upcoming COVID-19 Clinical Trials

An orphan cancer and a pandemic virus have a pathway in common, and Dr. Steven Treon may have an answer.

Boston Herald article about drug trial.

Boston Fox 25 interview with Dr. Treon.

June 22 update: These clinical trials are now active in many locations around the United States.


October 13–14 | New York City | International Waldenstrom's Macroglobulinemia Workshop, Speaker

Closing ceremonies at the United Nations

Closing ceremonies at the United Nations.
Left to right:  Dr. Steven P. Treon, Thomas Cavanaugh, Christopher J. Patterson, Karen Lee Sobol, and Peter S. Bing


October  5–8 | Amsterdam | 9th International Workshop on Waldenstrom's Macroglobulinemia, Speaker

Opening Ceremonies in candlelit Oosterkerk. 

Opening Ceremonies in candlelit Oosterkerk. 

Closing Ceremonies at the National Maritime Museum

Closing Ceremonies at the National Maritime Museum
Left to right:  Dr. Steven P. Treon, Philip S. Brodsky, Douglas Wolf, Greer Epstein, Ellen Patterson, Sara McKinnie, Lu Kleppinger, Kathy Stone, and Karen Lee Sobol.


September | Wellesley, MA | "Your Money, Your Future", Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Panelist

September | Cracow, Poland | 4th International Conference, Complex Treatment of Plasma Cell Dyscrasia in 2015, Speaker
At the invitation of Dr. Artur Jurczyszn and the Myeloma Treatment Foundation, I journeyed to Cracow to participate in an international conference and launch the Polish edition of Twelve Weeks.  A center of scholarship since the 1300's, Cracow hosted the conference with generosity and grace.

September 5
| Cracow, Poland | Book Launch: For the Polish edition I added a prologue, Dr. Artur Juraczyszn wrote a prologue, and Dr. Steven Treon contributed an epilogue.  Together these provide an update on the remarkable medical advances since Twelve Weeks was first published, and carry the message of hope beyond international borders.

March | online | Google Hangout / Navigating Clinical Trials / Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Panelist


August 14–17 | London, UK | 8th International Workshop on Waldenstrom's Macroglobulinemia

Opening ceremonies on the Thames, Karen Lee Sobol with Pat Gratton and Sara Zielinski.

Opening ceremonies on the Thames, Karen Lee Sobol with Pat Gratton and Sara Zielinski.


October | Karen Lee Sobol "Your first visit with your cancer specialist", Dana Farber Blog, October 23, 2013

August | Karen Lee Sobol feature, Beacon Hill Times, August 27, 2013

August | Karen Lee Sobol Interview with NESN's Jenny Dell, During Red Sox game, August 4, 2013

August | Karen Lee Sobol throws the Ceremonial First Pitch at Fenway Park

July | Online | New York Times Letter to the Editor here

June | Online | Dana-Farber Institute Guest Author Blog Post here

April 1 | Online | National Reading Groups Guest Author Blog Post here

March 1 | Palm Beach, FL | Complementary & Alternative Cancer Therapies, The Annie Appleseed Project

January 31 | New York, NY | The Power of Art, The National Arts Club


September 30 | Boston, MA | Updates and Advancements in Waldenstrom's Macroglobulinemia, Bing Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

August 23–26 | Newport, RI | 7th International Workshop on Waldenstrom's Macroglobulinemia

June 1-2 | Philadelphia, PA | Education Forum, International Foundation for Waldenstrom's Macroglobulinemia

May 20 | Boston, MA| Blum Patient and Family Resource Center, Dana-Farber
Cancer Institute

April 24 | Boston, MA | Kessler Health Education Library, Brigham and Womens' Hospital

March 11 | London, UK | Waldenstrom's Macroglobulinemia / United Kingdom


March 11 | Orlando, FL | 4th International Summit on Waldenstrom's Macroglobulinemia

June 24–25 | Minneapolis, MN | Education Forum, International Waldenstrom's Macroglobulinemia Foundation


October 6–10 | Venice, Italy | 6th International Workshop on Waldenstrom's


May 1 | Boston, MA | 3rd International Summit on Waldenstrom's Macroglobulinemia


October 16 | Stockholm, Sweden | 5th International Workshop on Waldenstrom's Macroglobulinemia