Blog Post

Celebrating the life of Karen Walsh, Broadway actress and colorectal cancer screening advocate

Celebrating the life of Karen Walsh, Broadway actress and colorectal cancer screening advocate

Actress and colorectal cancer advocate Karen Walsh Rullman, 41, who spoke so honestly and unforgettably of her experience with colon cancer at our Countdown to 2018 event at Hard Rock Cafe on March 1, has passed away after her two-year battle with cancer.

Karen was known for playing many roles on Broadway and in TV and film, but it was perhaps through her public cancer journey that Karen was best known. She invited family, friends, and fellow actors to join the “fun” at her chemotherapy sessions, transforming her bi-weekly treatments into hilarious photo shoots, like the one pictured here. The images are documented on her Instagram account, @kwrandthebigwin.

Her unique approach to treatment caught the attention of followers all over the world and nationwide media outlets, including the Huffington Post, Playbill, Daily Mail, and Cosmopolitan. A video capturing her journey was shared widely via Facebook.

Mary-Louise Parker shared the following in a tribute from Karen’s family: “The whole thing was emblematic of who she was—a real artist who could go to her cancer treatment and somehow make her cancer just the footnote.”

Karen was an ambassador for the 80% by 2018 campaign and appeared recently at the NCCRT’s 2016 Annual Meeting. At her personal urging, countless people fulfilled her request to be screened for colorectal cancer. Last October, the American Cancer Society’s Eastern Division honored her with its Mother of the Year award.

Karen produced two successful Broadway concert and auction events for the American Cancer Society, in memory of her dear friend, actor James Rebhorn. Ironically, it was during production of the second event that Karen herself was diagnosed with inoperable Stage IV colon cancer, just one week after her 40th birthday. Karen continued with the benefit, raising thousands of dollars for cancer research just six weeks after receiving her own diagnosis.

“Karen is the type of person with whom you felt an immediate connection. She had an openness, a willingness to share honestly, no matter how vulnerable she might feel,” said Rich Wender, MD, NCCRT chair and American Cancer Society chief cancer control officer. “Whether it was discussing Broadway, our love for theatre (especially Hamilton), her joyous ability to turn chemotherapy sessions into movie depictions, or her remarkable, heartfelt comments at last year’s NCCRT Annual Meeting, Karen was as real and honest a person as anyone I’ve known. My time knowing Karen was far too short. I am tired of colon cancer taking our loved ones.”

We will always remember Karen’s inspiring others to live life with joy and zest. Please join us in expressing our sincere condolences to Karen’s family.


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