Karen Bricky sat inside a Stanford doctor’s office on a cold January afternoon. She was about to get the worst news of her life for the second time – but her sister was bracing herself for even worse news just a few doors down the hall.
Bricky, 52, found out her ovarian cancer was back after she thought she had beat it in 2012. Her 47-year-old sister was diagnosed with leukemia that day, just two years after she battled breast cancer in 2012.
The women also lost their mother to cancer in 1983, when she was 44 years old.
“My first thought was, ‘Oh my goodness, I don’t want it to happen to me,’ ” Bricky recalled. “You don’t ever want to hear the words that you have cancer. It’s so heartbreaking for a family to have two people have cancer together.”
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“It was the longest drive home that night,” she added. “We said, ‘We have to beat this. Whatever it takes, we have to beat this.’ ”
Bricky, a Merced County employee since 1999, had no idea her second fight against cancer would touch the lives of dozens of co-workers and friends from all over the county – resulting in an outpouring of emotional and financial support.
County employees rallied together to host fundraisers to pay for Bricky’s chemotherapy treatment and donated personal vacation hours through a program that allows employees to donate hours to people with serious injuries or illness. Some even helped mow Bricky’s lawn and delivered food to her front door.
“I’m humbled beyond words sometimes, because how can I adequately thank people?” Bricky said. “I think the people of Merced County are phenomenal. I’m stunned beyond tears.”
County departments such as planning, probation, auditor, assessor, welfare and the District Attorney’s Office have each rallied to help Bricky. She estimates more than $4,000 was raised by the employees, which helped pay for 27 trips to Stanford since January.
Planning Director Mark Hendrickson said Merced County’s roughly 2,000 employees are the “lifeblood” of the county. Eight people from his department were involved with helping Bricky, whom Hendrickson called a beautiful lady with an extraordinary spirit.
“Despite the challenges she’s faced, she’s come in multiple times with a smile on her face,” he said. “I feel very blessed to have people like that in my life. Every once in a while we have the opportunity to help someone, and those are opportunities we have to seize.”
Bricky, who works as a collection agent for the Revenue and Reimbursement Department, said she wanted to highlight the positive work of Merced County employees.
“There is some negativity in the county, but there’s also a lot of good,” Bricky said. “We don’t always hear about the good, and I think people deserve to be acknowledged for the good work they’ve done.”
Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II said he’s been friends with Bricky for more than 20 years. Morse said he lost one of his best friends to cancer this year and it becomes personal when it strikes someone you care about.
Morse said he’s not surprised to see so many county employees stepping up to help Bricky. “It may be humbling for her, but it’s not surprising to me,” he said. “People complain about Merced, but the beauty of being in a smaller town is people really care and they’re there for you during crunch time.”
Now Bricky, a mother of two, gives back to the community through Relay for Life events and fundraisers – an effort she’s been involved with for the past 15 years.
“We’re raising money to fight this terrible disease,” said Bricky, who estimates her team raised $8,000 last year for the American Cancer Society. “Research is the reason why cancer is not taking as many people as it did years ago, and that research comes from the money raised by Relay for Life.”
Bricky was surrounded by friends and colleagues on Thursday, reading notes and encouraging cards. Bricky, who’s been away from work for several months, promised her friends she’d be back soon.
“What I get most out of her story is how this has positively impacted other people,” said Ana Muniz-Laguna, an administrative assistant in the community and economic development department.
Bricky will undergo her final chemotherapy treatment on Aug. 8, and her sister successfully completed a bone marrow transplant two weeks ago. Bricky, who will find out Aug. 20 if her cancer is in remission, is expected to return to work Sept. 25.
In the meantime, she said this experience has taught her to never take a moment of life for granted.
“I try to wake up each day and be positive and live in the moment,” Bricky said while fighting back tears. “I can’t live in the future because I have to enjoy each day, and I have to thank God that I’m still here.”