Gary and Karen's Story of Strength

Gary and Karen's Story of Strength

Celebrating Strength, October 3

Gary Evjen was living a happy and healthy life with his wife, Karen. Together, their workdays were devoted to teaching music in schools and both volunteered with the local jazz society in Saskatoon. They also helped organize the annual local music festival for school bands.

But in early 2005, Gary’s health had changed markedly. He battled bouts of fatigue for a few years leading up to that time, but then things got worse. Gary started to experience problems with his memory and speech, and even his moods. It was then that  Karen insisted on taking Gary to her own doctor and the cause of all these health issues was soon revealed. In April 2006 the couple received the diagnosis: Gary had a large brain tumour on his left frontal lobe, a malignant Grade III anaplastic oligoastrocytoma.

This wasn’t the only startling news they would receive. Given that the tumour was cancerous, Gary was told he might only have five years to live. Despite the shocking prognosis, Gary recalls feeling overjoyed to finally have an explanation for what he had been experiencing. “I looked at the doctors and said, ‘Thank you. Now what do we do?’”

Five surgeries, 30 radiation treatments and over six years have passed since Gary and Karen began the journey with a brain tumour. In August 2011, on Gary’s birthday and shortly after the fifth anniversary of his diagnosis, the couple received the best news they could ask for from the oncologist. Gary was all clear from the tumour. “Last year’s present was absolutely amazing,” remembers Karen. “I don’t think there could have been a better way to celebrate Gary’s birthday.”

Throughout his operations and treatments, and even the scare of a mild heart attack, Gary and Karen never lost hope. They maintained an outlook full of optimism, choosing to volunteer their time with Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada to help bring that positive perspective to others affected by the disease.

As a survivor, Gary says it’s through his time as a co-convenor with the Saskatoon Brain Tumour Support Group that he connects with others facing similar challenges and experiences. Karen, who also acts as a convenor for the group, looks at their volunteering as a way to help others while learning more about the ins and outs of the disease and its impact. “It’s honest and open communication at the group. You get to know these people, and really, become their friends for life.”

The duo continues to organize their local support group and also make it a priority to raise awareness about the organization at local hospitals, including having a display at Royal University Hospital during Brain Tumour Awareness Month.

Gary believes that people need to be aware of the love and support you can get from others: “We’re always working at it, spreading the word. We feel like there is always more to be done and want to help if we can.”


Thank you to Karen Kowalenko-Evjen and Gary Evjen for sharing your incredible strength and your efforts to raise awareness about brain tumours across Saskatoon.

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 Story posted: October 2012. Since then, Brain Tumour Awareness Month has moved to May.

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