Xavier Magazine

A Hare-Raising Tale

Even after undergoing a complete hysterectomy, the removal of a lymph node and six rounds of chemo, Karen Goff Dyser still has to face a frightening statistic: The five-year survival rates for her Stage 3 ovarian cancer are just 27 percent.

“They tell you when you have cancer that you’re not out of the woods until you can say you’ve survived for five years,” she says. Which is why, when her operations and chemo were over, she knew she didn’t have any time to waste.

It started as stomach pain. She felt full when she’d hardly eaten anything for days. She went to the doctor and a CT scan revealed the cancer. “I was blindsided,” she says. “It’ s very numbing when a doctor comes in and says, ‘Mrs. Dyser, you have cancer.’ It’s the words you never want to hear.” Everyone she knew who had cancer—her mother had breast cancer and her father had lung cancer—all died. When the shock of the news wore off, the fear crept in. “I was just fearful, first, that I may not survive,” Dyser says.

Dyser, a 1982 MEd graduate and longtime kindergarten teacher, began seeing a counselor who asked her to remember her earliest fear. Dyser recalled a recurring nightmare she had as a 4-year-old, in which a monster tried to steal her beloved rocking chair. She would awaken in panic, crying out for her mother. The counselor suggested Dyser write a children’s book about fear.

Eventually, she hunkered down on her patio and scribbled out a first draft in one sitting. “It became very therapeutic for me,” Dyser says. “As I wrote this story, I was writing myself out of the chaos and fear.” After a few edits, she had her story: Bailey Bunny and the Fear Monster, about a baby rabbit who has nightmares of a monster stealing his rocking chair. His mother comforts him, making him feel “safe and warm and loved,” the book’s recurring line. Finally she gives little Bailey a Courage Stone to put under his pillow to remind him that he has the power to face whatever scares him. The book is illustrated by Mary Ann Bucci, a Zanesville, Ohio, artist whose daughters Dyser taught in kindergarten.

Dyser enjoys going to schools and reading her book to children, which she has done in several states. She dresses up like Mama Bunny in her book: in fuzzy slippers, a pink nightgown and a white apron. The story opens up a chance for kids to talk about their own fears and how they handle them.

For now, Dyser’s doctors tell her she’s in the clear. “We’re just hoping for the best,” she says. “I walk every day. I do weight work. I eat well.” Although she’s taken some time off, she says it won’t be long before she’s “back on the bunny trail.”

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