Extraordinary Life

Karin Diamond of Simsbury died Sept. 21, 2013, at age 31, of Hodgkin's lymphoma. (Family photo / October 15, 2013)

Karin Diamond wanted to be a writer and majored in English and journalism in college. She then started a blog about her life as a 20-something professional with a husband, a house and a dog, and called it Eyes Peeled Always, from a saying of her grandfather's.

Her first two blogs in 2009 were about the minutiae of everyday life; by this year, her blogs had drawn an estimated 700,000 hits. She was published regularly on the Huffington Post, was awarded second place in the "Best Blogger" contest of Hartford Magazine, and had an op-ed piece published in The Courant.

Her subject matter, however, changed drastically from the beginning. In addition to chronicling her suburban lifestyle, she added living with cancer — and then knowing she was dying of cancer.

Karin Diamond died Sept. 21 of Hodgkin's lymphoma. She was 31, and lived in the Tariffville section of Simsbury.

Karin Dubreuil was born June 29, 1982, and grew up in Torrington, where she was an athlete, played the clarinet and wanted to learn to surf. From middle school on, she had her own "effortlessly chic" style, said her best friend, Meredith Fagiaschi O'Keefe, and she got along with all the different cliques in high school. She was editor of the yearbook at the University of New Hampshire, and spent a semester in Australia while dating Craig Diamond, her high school sweetheart. They married in 2007.

She spent a year after college waitressing before she got her first "real" job, as an assistant editor of Hartford Magazine. After a stint at the Downtown Arts Council in Hartford, she applied for a marketing position at Hartford Hospital.

"She was clearly intelligent, had a wonderful kind of spirit and the kind of creative force we were looking for," said Lee Monroe, director of marketing for the hospital. "She was funny and irreverent, but a committed hard worker. You'd ask her to do something, and a half hour later, it would be done."

In May of 2009, after feeling ill for a week, Diamond, then 26, went to the doctor. She found out on May 8 that she had Hodgkin's lymphoma, a disease of the lymph system that was considered to be a "good cancer" with a high cure rate.

By that time, Diamond had already started writing her blog, and she decided to continue.

She had unwillingly become part of a new demographic: a person under 40 with cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, 72,000 adolescents and young adults aged 15-39 are diagnosed with cancer every year. The incidence of cancer has increased more in young adults than in any other age group and is the number one disease killer of adults under 40 in the U.S.

It soon turned out that Diamond had one of the most serious types of Hodgkin's, a kind her doctors called "refractory," which means it doesn't respond to treatments. She underwent radiation, surgery and two transplants, one with her own stem cells and one with her sister's. She took more than 30 different kinds of chemotherapy medication and participated in numerous clinical trials. She was treated at five different hospitals in desperate attempts to vanquish the disease, which turned from curable to chronic to deadly.

Her blog left out no details of her treatment. She wrote "[expletive] you Mr. Hodgkin," and described the procedures, frustrations, pain and indignities she endured. As the self-described "CEO of Diamond Inc.," she stayed informed about every new approach to her disease as each remission was followed by the return of symptoms.

But what amazed her readers was the way she handled living with cancer. When she lived in New York for treatment, she exulted over the Broadway plays she saw. She won a scholarship to a writers' conference in San Francisco, went on vacations to Acadia National Park in Maine, watched UConn win a national championship and took a cruise to the Caribbean. She wrote repeatedly about how lucky she was and how wonderful her family and friends were.

Throughout her ups and downs, she remained upbeat.

"I have a good — no, a great — no, an utterly balls-out fabulous life, and more importantly, the capacity to understand its impermanence," she wrote for the Huffington Post.

"Sure, I have some things that I don't need, ahem, cancer, but I have everything I do need. Right here. Right now. I revel in that comfort, and wonder how I got it so good," she wrote in one blog post.

When she could, she went kayaking, and fulfilled her childhood dream of learning to surf. She attended a book group, did yoga, took her dog Sammy to the dog park, and wrote to publishers trying to get her blogs published.

She was part of Visible Ink, a writing mentorship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City that pairs patients with established writers. Her partner was Judith Kelman, a popular writer of more than 20 books.

"She positively bloomed as a writer and attracted a huge number of readers," Kelman said. "She had that clear-eyed voice that attracts a lot of people."

In addition to her husband, Diamond is survived by her parents, Laura and Paul Dubreuil; a sister, Kristen Dubreuil; and a brother, Michael Dubreuil.

"She lived her illness in public and gave a lot of people the gift of her courage and honesty and openness in a way that was very generous," Kelman said. "It was a short life, but a meaningful one. She left a huge footprint."