Karen Shollenberger, former Production Manager at The Triangle and 2017 Drexel University graduate with a Bachelor and Masters of Science in Science and Technical Communication, passed away Aug 9 at 23 years old after a 13-year battle with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).
Karen was from West Friendship, Maryland. She was born on July 11, 1994. She was a member of the Pennoni Honors College of Drexel University and the Gamma Sigma Sigma sorority and worked at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. She was, without a doubt, one of the best people any of us have ever known.
If you’ve never stepped into a newsroom before, take our word for it, that it is an incredibly chaotic and frantic environment. However, Karen’s presence in our chaotic newsroom was always reassuring and calming. Karen joined our Triangle family Fall 2012 and her role was essential to our team: she laid out the paper each week, designed the news section and proofed the final paper for every single little error before sending it off to print.
In a newsroom, your production manager makes the magic happen. For Karen, no matter how close our deadline loomed or what last-minute changes we threw her way, she never wavered, accepted the challenge, and executed it. We soon realized she responded that way to everything life threw at her.
Picturing the look on Karen’s face if we told her that we needed to add a full page ad to the print issue on the eve of production (which is what we did here) is both hilarious, and brings us to tears. Again — Karen confronted every single challenge she ever faced, whether it be cancer or a kink in the layout, with determination and grace. She’d have been so annoyed to reconfigure the entire paper at our request, but she would have cranked up some Taylor Swift and gotten it done with a smile. She made it seem effortless. That’s how Karen did everything.
Karen had to leave the Triangle in 2013 to fight cancer for the second time. For many of us, that was the first time we ever heard that she even had a battle once before, because that’s how Karen was. She didn’t let cancer define who she was. It wasn’t that she was afraid of it, or scarred by it, or anything of the kind — she actually referred to cancer as “the worst best thing” because it brought her close to some of the most treasured people in her life, and gave her some of her most valuable lessons. That was just Karen. She rarely wanted to talk about herself, unless it was in a way to make someone else better. She was able to genuinely celebrate each of her friends’ successes, and she loved doing it. If ever there was a cloud, she would be the first defend its silver lining. Karen only embraced the good in life. The “deck” in the About Me section of her blog reads, “The happiest people don’t have the best of everything. They make the best of everything.” Karen made the best of everything, and she taught us all how to do the same.
Although she never wrote for the newspaper, Karen’s adeptness at the craft was evident both in her personal blog and in her academic assignments. The experience of reading Karen’s writing is one that’s both inspirational and aspirational. On her blog, she wrote with honesty and bravery about her treatment regimen — as well as what was happening in her life that day — always imbuing her posts with humor, optimism, and a specific ‘Karen charm.’ But she also had this great passion for scientific writing. In keeping us updated with all of her treatments through her blog, Karen found the poetry in a craft that others may find tedious, injecting her usability tests and technical instructions with an implied directness accuracy, but also personality and humanity.
Karen was determined to not only beat cancer, but to make sure it didn’t control the way she lived her life. Cancer did not define Karen — Karen always did what Karen wanted. She was resilient. Summer was her favorite. So were kittens. And she was always talking about her friends from Camp Sunrise, a weeklong summer overnight camp for children who have or had cancer. She loved country music and was always ecstatic to see a live performance. She took road trips and enjoyed hiking waterfalls. When she was stuck in the hospital for 100 days after a bone marrow transplant, she made a countdown chain consisting of friendly notes, movie/book suggestions, or a fun task to complete that day — this gave her something to look forward to each day. Even when recovering from such a serious operation, she still managed to maintain enough positivity and appreciate each day.
Even when cancer tried to limit her plans, she found ways around it. She called herself a “professional negotiator” when it came to talking with doctors about being permitted to leave the hospital to attend a Cool Kids Campaign event, spend a term on campus, or stay home to enjoy time with her family. Karen’s quoted in the Cool Kids Campaign book, You Are Not Alone, “I take more opportunities now, knowing that life can be short and every healthy day is a good day.” She knew the value of each day, whether it was spent in a hospital or not, and she made sure a day was never wasted.
Karen was first diagnosed with leukemia in August 2004 and was treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She underwent standard chemotherapy for 2.5 years and finished treatment in spring 2007. It wasn’t until an annual checkup in August 2013 that she learned she had relapsed. Again, Karen underwent chemotherapy, and in December she received a bone marrow transplant from her younger sister, Susie. Six months after receiving the transplant, Karen relapsed again. After more chemotherapy, Karen went to the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania for a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell trial. The next year Karen spent joyfully in remission. Upon another relapse, she again tried another CART cell trial. Another six months went by, but in June 2016 the leukemia came back for a fifth time. That August she received another bone marrow transplant, this time from her brother Matt. Last February she was declared cancer free. However, in early June she relapsed again and spent these last few months fighting one last fight.
Karen inspired all of us in a truly profound way, every day in how she lived. Because Karen knew life was too short to hide from feelings, she told us hers all of the time. She told us that she missed us. She told us she couldn’t wait to get back to Drexel to see us. How lucky are we to have a purely remarkable person want to spend her limited time with us. She had a unique ability to empower each of us individually, making us all feel so special. She told us how much this family we have meant to her, which for many of us, illuminated how much this family meant to us, too.
We found out about Karen’s passing just before noon on August 10. In only a few hours, the entire Triangle alumni base stopped what they were doing, and were in a GoogleDoc, sharing how she touched us all with the rest of the world. It’s not enough by any stretch, and it is the only first step in our memorialization of her. Karen’s example of maintaining positivity and courage in the face of adversity is unlike anything we’ve seen before and will remain with us as we continue ahead, carrying Karen with us along our journeys.
Karen is survived by her parents, Christina and Steve Shollenberger, her siblings, Matt and Susie Shollenberger, her family at The Triangle, and countless others that loved her, and were inspired by her.
David Stephenson, Editor in Chief Fall 2011-Spring 2012
Stanley Wright, Editor in Chief Spring-Fall 2012
Helen Nowotnik, Editor in Chief Fall 2012-Spring 2013
Anne Most, Editor in Chief Spring-Fall 2013
Sandra Petri, Editor in Chief Fall 2013-Spring 2014
Julia Casciato, Editor in Chief Spring-Fall 2014
Justin Roczniak, Editor in Chief Fall 2014-Spring 2016
Devon Harman, News Editor December 2013-December 2014
Ken Chaney, IT Director Fall 2013-Spring 2016
Thao Duong, Co-Chief Copy Editor Summer 2014-Spring 2016
Sean Craig, Co-Chief Copy Editor, Winter 2012-Spring 2014
Azwad Rahman, News Editor Fall 2015-Spring 2016
Ajon Brodie, Photo Editor Fall 2012-Spring 2015
Vaughn Shirey, Op-ed Writer Winter 2013-Winter 2014
Aubrey Nagle, Arts & Entertainment Editor Summer 2013
Kevin Rossi, Sports Writer Summer 2013-Spring 2014
Brian Palmer, Sports Writer Fall 2011-Spring 2014
Bryan Fyalkowski, Sports Editor Summer 2013-Spring 2014