Actress Karen Black Battling Cancer

karen blackWe were saddened to hear that one of our favorite actresses, Karen Black, is battling recurring cancer affecting her pancreas and intestine.

Black delighted fans in films as diverse as  Easy Rider, The Great GatsbyThe Day of the Locust, Nashville, Airport 1975, Alfred Hitchcock’s Family Plot and Five Easy Pieces, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award.

In Robert Altman’s Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean from 1982, she played Joanne, a trangender woman who reunites with old high-school friends who knew her as a boy. (Her name also inspired one of the trippiest bands of all time, the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black.)

The cost of Black’s treatments have been devastating, so her husband Stephen set up a Go Fund Me page to raise vital funds. Here’s his note on the site:

Some of you may remember my wife, Karen Black.  She contributed tremendous work as an actress in movies of the Seventies and Eighties. If you’ve ever enjoyed her work, now is your chance to reach back to Karen – because Karen needs your help.

Karen has waging a battle for over two years with cancer.  She has not talked about this publicly because she was hoping it would be cured and she could call herself a cancer survivor.

Karen was diagnosed with ampullary cancer in November of 2010. She immediately had the “Whipple,” one of the most serious operations that is performed at the Mayo clinic were she had it done– a third of her pancreas was removed.  This was followed by extensive chemo and radiation back home at UCLA infive and dime the Spring and Summer of 2011.  After suffering through nausea, fainting and losing over thirty pounds, she was finally declared NED – No Evidence of Disease in July.

But by December 2011 a small tumor developed and another surgery was in order, which left her completely bed-ridden.  Her cancer seemed conquered though.  By spring 2012 she was doing a lot better and could walk around and was almost normal.

But in June 2012, the cancer came back – and it started spreading – one near her lungs and one in her lower back.

We started trying different things – through hit and miss we found some alternative treatments that seem to help, and she went to Cedar Sinai in Los Angeles and had two operations in January and February to freeze the tumor in her lower back that by then had grown to be four pounds.   Even though the operation was a success, Karen was completely debilitated – even now she can hardly move around and is mostly bed-bound.

The cancer is minimized, but we know from past experience that it won’t be long before it comes back.  Her oncologist in Los Angeles has recommended that she do chemo therapy, but the problem is that she is skin and bones – before starting on this journey she weighed 156 pounds, she now weighs 96 pounds.  That’s a third of her body weight!  Part of the problem is that missing a pancreas she doesn’t digest food, and also chemo makes it very difficult to eat.

Karen has been confronting the fact that she would die soon if she didn’t do something.

BUT THERE IS HOPE.  Karen’s family physician of many years called us two weeks ago and told us of success she has had with several of her patients doing a treatment in Europe as part of a clinical study there.  I cannot go into more details now, but I promise I will in the future as we get involved.  I will say that this is a medically supervised program and it targets Karen’s kind of cancer.  In fact, we personally know two of the patients that have had remarkable recoveries from cancer there.  So we know it works, and right now it is her best and only shot.

But we have to move fast, Karen needs to go in the next few weeks, otherwise she might be to weak to go at all.

Karen will be there for two months.

So here is the big question; why would someone like Karen need money?

Yes, she was an actress in movies, but most of the high-paying work dwindled out many years ago.  She has a modest pension and medical insurance (thank goodness), but as anyone knows who has fought cancer, that is not enough.  In the last two years we have used up all of our savings keeping Karen alive – traveling – treatments, getting people to help her.   We have nothing left.  And the European treatment is not covered by insurance.

Your contribution will cover travel, living and treatment expenses for two months and will give Karen a chance.  Please help anyway you can, we humbly accept it.

Thank you.

Stephen Eckelberry

The campaign has already beat its $32,000 goal, but any additional funds will help bring Stephen along as Black undergoes experimental treatment in Europe.


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  • kurt_t

    Think back to 1971. How many actresses of that era could have delivered the line “Let’s Hari Kari.” and make you believe every word of it? I can only think of one, the incomparable Karen Black.

    Well, OK, and Divine, but that’s kind of an apples and oranges situation.

    I’m sending my donation today.

  • balehead

    Karen Black rocks!! Where is the fund can we contribute to her health care?

  • balehead

    There is one..

  • boring

    Honey, nobody delighted their fans in Airport ’75.

  • kurt_t

    @boring: I don’t do this very often, but I rebuke your comment in the Name of the Lord.

  • ArthurTreacher

    Of course we all love Karen Black (who wouldn’t?). However, it is troublesome that her goals was bumped up from the original $17 thousand to now $32 thousand. It gives one pause as to the veracity of the statements made on her behalf.

  • Charanto

    Karen Black was in two great horror movies in the 1970’s. In Trilogy of Terror, she was chased around her apartment by a scarey possessed doll with a knife. Another favorite of mine that she was in was Burnt Offerings along side the great Bette Davis. I hate that she has cancer and my thoughts and prayers go out to her and her family.

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