When WWL-TV anchor Karen Swensen decided to retire from the New Orleans local TV station, she paid tribute to a long list of people whose stories she told.
The award-winning journalist had been at the station for years—going through hardships of her own.
In late 2000, doctors found a benign tumor in Swensen’s uterus. She had surgery six weeks before her wedding and was told by doctors that she may never have children. Medical advances helped change that when she gave birth to a daughter.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina wiped out New Orleans. As Swensen was on air, covering and reporting the storm for WWL-TV, her own home was being destroyed.
Swensen described to CBS News’ lead national correspondent David Begnaud how much this impacted her.
“I went down this rabbit hole for really years, just missing the house that we had lost, the friends we had lost, the way of life that we had lost,” she said.
Swensen would leave WWL-TV to be the morning anchor in her hometown of Boston. After a couple of years, Swensen returned to the Big Easy. Shortly after, her family would be rocked by another challenge.
“In 2011, we moved back to New Orleans. My husband six months later was diagnosed with advanced cancer… My daughter was only nine,” she recalled.
Swensen’s husband, John, a New Orleans Police detective, would lose his battle to cancer six years later.
“I’ve been through a lot of life’s changes, and if I can help somebody else navigate it a little bit easier, then there’s a purpose for all of it,” she said.
That purpose has helped to push her to walk away from a successful career on television to run a company called Life’s About Change. All of the products made by her company are American made.
The company sells products made by people who have changed their lives.
Amanda Claridy and Jenna Collins went through their own struggles and are now successful potters who imprint Swensen’s line of coffee mugs with words to live by.
“We’re living testimonies about what a life can look like changed,” said Claridy.
Candles are among the products that are sold and have a special meaning to Swensen.
“The idea from the candles came from a doctor who was helping my husband and I to navigate his cancer journey. The day he was diagnosed she said ‘I want you to go get a candle and then I want you to watch the wax disappear, the wax and your cancer cells.’ She said ‘visualize,'” Swensen recalled.
She said she hopes that people who buy the candle see the flame and they think about their own inner strength.
For several years, Swensen juggled her job at the TV station and looked for special vendors for the candles. Some of those candles were created by a veteran.
“[She] joins the military at 33 because she’s decided that it’s time to give back,” Swensen said.
Swensen believes that her company is about hope and joy.
“Always look for the positive or at least try to be in a state of joy. It will help you navigate it. So, when my husband was sick, we looked for the person who beat it. When he passed, I look for the widow who was still smiling,” she said.
Her website is filled with stories like that, but there is one story not there – the one that hit hard after her appendicitis.
“So, as I’m recuperating, and I pull up the pathology reports and fully expect them to be fine and it said carcinoma. And I was like, ‘No way.’ And all of a sudden they said ‘Had you not had this other pain? Your appendix,'” Swensen said. “That kind of cancer is so insidious that by the time you usually find it’s over. I don’t like even speaking about it because to me, it gives it, it gives it strength.”
She never spoke about it before but said the “twist of fate” helped her walk away from her TV career.
“You start thinking, maybe it’s time to untether yourself from the desk and just sort of blindly go out there and just trust the universe,” Swensen said.