Riffs For Remission: A Conversation with Kara

By Amy Gavin, Impact Manager

According to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) approximately every 3 minutes, someone in the United States is diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma, or myeloma, and over 159,000 people are living with or in remission from Hodgkin lymphoma. Thankfully, Hodgkin lymphoma is one of the most curable forms of cancer. Kara Casteel, our friend and colleague from ASK LLP, is one of the lucky survivors. I recently spoke with Kara about her journey from symptoms to diagnosis, to treatment to remission, to her current fundraising journey to become the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Visionary of the Year.

Kara’s experience began with a lump in her throat, about six months prior to her annual physical exam. With a family history of hypothyroidism, she asked her physician to run thyroid level testing specifically.

“I was so convinced that would be my diagnosis. When my thyroid levels came back normal, my doctor took my complaints seriously. I had a CT scan and two biopsies, with the second one having enough cells removed to be examined and confirmed as Hodgkin lymphoma. My doctor also asked me how long one of my neck lymph nodes had been tender and enlarged. I wasn’t overly concerned, but when you’re 30 years old and healthy, cancer isn’t exactly the first thing that pops into your mind!”

“Advocacy for my health, along with a doctor who took me seriously, were the keys to relatively early detection.”

For Kara, one of the most difficult effects of undergoing six rounds (twelve doses) of chemotherapy was experiencing the “chemo brain” phenomenon.

“Treatments can be just as bad mentally as they are physically. I didn’t quite realize how much chemotherapy and the other cocktail of drugs that come with it would affect me mentally. I used to describe my brain after chemo as a puzzle that needed to be put back together. At about two weeks, I finally felt like all the pieces had been put back in place—and then it was time for my next treatment.” 

“The mental health of persons undergoing chemotherapy or other cancer treatment can be just as important as their physical health.”

Even with the support of family and friends, Kara often experienced feelings of aloneness and being depressed.

“Some people knew all the right things to say, and some people knew the exact opposite. I was fortunate enough to be paired with a fellow female attorney who had gone through treatment similar to mine three years earlier. She was my outlet to complain about both the big and the mundane. I will be forever grateful to her.”

Once treatment was completed, Kara looked for ways to get her health and fitness back. She discovered Team in Training (TNT), the fundraising branch of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, which runs marathons and half marathons nationwide. Kara ran her first race in 2015 and has been running and fundraising for LLS since.

“The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society helped me feel back at home in my body and connected me with a group of survivors and supporters I am close with to this day.” 

With her 10-year remission date on the horizon, Kara is facing a new challenge—Visionary of the Year!

“I watched several of my TNT friends run for Visionary of the Year. It’s a lot of work! I thought I might run one day, but I wanted to wait until I was at least 40 and in remission for 10 years. Turns out 2024 is that year! This is a large task, but one I take very seriously and with my whole heart.”

Kara is hoping to raise $150,000! This requires a team of friends, family, and colleagues to come together to reach this goal. “While I may be the candidate, a candidate is only as strong as the team behind them!” Enter Riffs for Remission.

“I am so excited about Riffs! A year ago, when I first confirmed I would be running for 2024, I told Gavin/Solmonese’s Jeremy VanEtten about my goal and that I wasn’t quite sure how I’d be able to reach it. Without hesitating, he said, “We’ll throw a benefit rock concert for you.” Glenn Moses was also with us and readily agreed. It expanded from there, and both the Indubitable Equivalents and The DebtBeats will be performing, featuring Jeremy, Glenn, and many local and national restructuring professionals.”

Help us help Kara reach her fundraising goal for 2024’s Leukemia & Lymphoma Visionary of the Year campaign. Register to attend the all-inclusive rock-n-roll networking event at City Winery in Philadelphia on May 1, 2024.

“It’s going to be a fun night of people coming together to do good—all while having a wicked good time. I’m truly amazed at the community support we’ve had so far, and I can’t wait to see what we end up raising for LLS!”