Ready to fight

Dani Sureck, Staff Writer

     As a teenager, she enjoyed hanging out with friends and being outside. Today, she enjoys cooking, reading and writing. She is a wife, a mother of two daughters and a grandmother of two.

     Karen Wilbanks is the Oral Interpretation teacher and a coach for the speech team. She grew up in Houston, Texas, and moved to Plano 28 years ago with her husband of 33 years, and has been teaching at Plano for the last 18 years.

     Until Nov. 29, her life was as ordinary as anyone else’s.

     On that day, Wilbanks was diagnosed with the earliest stage of breast cancer. Breast cancer was found nowhere in Wilbanks’ family history and she had no high risk factors.

     “The only factors I had were that I’m a female and that I have a pulse,” Wilbanks said. “It was out of left field.”

     After surgery, Wilbanks began her radiation treatment once a day for five days and will do so for 6-8 weeks. Once she finishes this process, she will begin to take a pill instead.

     Wilbanks, along with Cheryl Potts and Beth Smith, takes time outside of her day to work with the speech students on their pieces for competitions. Wilbanks believes that the best part about working with speech students is seeing each of them achieve their goals.

     “Some of them are lofty and high, others are small,” Wilbanks said. “Some people think that because the speech team has been so successful that it’s about winning, but it’s not. It’s about seeing people, at whatever level they are, set a specific goal and reach it and surpass it and become better people in the process.”

     Recently, Potts has had to work with the speech team more often than before.

     “We normally share the load with the paperwork, with regards to the team,” Potts said. “I’m trying to buffer for her and do more administrative work. But the team misses her at tournaments, they miss her a lot.”

     Not being able to travel with the speech team to major competitions such as State and the Harvard Competition, has affected Wilbanks emotionally. With tears flowing out of her eyes, Wilbanks said that she believes the speech team is the most rewarding part of her job.

     “Having to take time away from them is hard,” Wilbanks said. “I know they will still make me proud, absolutely.”

     Not being able to attend tournaments has affected speech students, as well. Senior Keegan Latham remembers spending time with Wilbanks at the Harvard competition last year, and said he believes that things will not be the same without her this year.

     “It was really fun to go out and eat with her and be independent with her,” Latham said. “It sucks that she won’t be with us again, but she expects more of us now. She has to trust us to work hard on work sessions by ourselves to make sure we succeed.”

     Wilbanks’ diagnosis was early, so her prognosis is strong. She is in the process of getting radiation for the next six to eight weeks and is going to the doctor on a regular basis.

     “I get regular check-ups,” Wilbanks said. “I’m on a mission to ask everybody I see, have you had a mammogram? Has your mom had a mammogram?”

     Wilbanks said she believes that she was a strong person before her diagnosis, but going through this experience has proven to her that she is stronger than she knew, and so is her family.

     “I am looking forward to getting done with my treatments and looking to next year,” Wilbanks said. “I don’t believe it is the last year. I believe the Mayans were wrong, so I’m looking forward to 2012 and 2013.”