Artist returns to Scottsdale Art Festival after battling aggressive cancer

The 45th annual Scottsdale Art Festival is wrapping up today at Civic Center Park. The event is recognized as one of the top art fairs in the country.

It featured 175 "awe-inspiring" artists from coast-to-coast, along with live music and gourmet food. And, the works of art are available to buy through an online art auction. Proceeds benefit the Scottsdale Center of the Performing Arts.

One of the artists there to showcase her beautiful pieces is one whose journey is as incredible as the sculptures she creates. Her name is Karen Klay and she is making her return to the festival after some time away.
Karen Klay and her husband Mark call the Scottsdale Arts Festival their favorite show.

"[I'm] excited, scared… wondering if I could actually put the booth up [with] help [from] my husband, Klay said.

"She just now got the thumbs up about a month ago to get back to work, so we were able to pull some things together and got some things for the show," said Mark Klay, Karen's husband.

This is the Klay's first show in a year. Weeks after this picture was snapped during the 2014 Scottsdale Arts Festival, Karen was diagnosed with a highly aggressive form of breast cancer. 

"I had my mammogram and physical in February of 2014," Klay said. "Everything came back perfectly normal. As of April, I was just taking a shower. I never do self-checks ever, [but] I was in the shower [and] I felt this lump. I had my husband touch it and he said wow, that's like a marble sized lump."

Within three days Karen received the news, and a week later she started 8 rounds of chemotherapy, followed by a double mastectomy.

"So for the whole year I couldn't create anything and because my husband and I work together, we collaborate, and he couldn't do his part…I couldn't do my part," Karen Klay said.

"I was pretty much her caregiver, so doing the artwork together I got kind of set back because there are certain things I do that I can't do without her," Mark Klay said.

The couple, who live in Oro Valley, have been creating art together for 22 years, and for the first time were forced to take time off. 

Karen documented her cancer journey on Facebook, posting updates, photos and most importantly, reminders to do self-checks.

"I want to get the word out," Klay said. "I've saved three of my friend's lives because of it… two of them found cancer.

"I'm just so proud of her," said Mark. "We've been together for 36 years and I'm glad she's still with me

"These pieces, they are considered pot carrying women," Karen said. "Native-American women used to carry water pots on their heads."

Their pieces are all made of gourds. They are beautiful, unique and full of life, just like Karen who says there is absolutely no history of breast cancer in her family. 

"I'm here and that's the biggest thing and I have to say with cancer… cancer is so scary because it not only affects you physically, [but] emotionally [and] financially," Karen said. "It's a very, very, scary disease."

Putting her fears aside and a smile on her face was much easier after she came back to a place she says feels like home.

Karen wants to remind people about the importance of self-examinations. She says that saved her life.
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