September 26, 2017 / All Stories

Cancer changed how this mom chose to live her life, serve her community

"Working Mother of the Year” Kristen Howard is a caregiver not only for her children and work department, but also for her community.

Working mother Kristen Howard’s to do list never ends with working a full-time administrative assistant job at AbbVie, running her daughter to horseback riding, volleyball or track, helping with homework and more. Yet Howard cares deeply for her community through her multiple volunteer activities.

Life-changing diagnosis

Howard got heavily involved in volunteering after having cancer when she was a child. At just 14, Howard started having intense stomach pains and soon ended up in the emergency room where doctors initially thought Kristen was pregnant. However, when doctors investigated, it turned out Howard’s ovary burst, causing her great pain, and they found a large tumor. She was soon after diagnosed with immature teratoma, a rare type of malignant germ cell tumor, and underwent surgery to remove the tumor and began chemotherapy.

Howard recalls long nights where her mother slept in an armchair next to her bed because she didn’t want to leave her side since she had a 50/50 chance of survival. “Let me tell you, there were days when I didn’t want to fight anymore. As a parent now, I can’t even imagine what my mom felt when I said I didn’t want to fight anymore. But we kept fighting,” Howard says.

After being in and out of the hospital for treatment for many months, Howard made connections with children and people going through similar fights with cancer. She felt comfortable in the surroundings on the oncology and hematology floor and soon after she was in remission, started volunteering each week at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

Giving back

And Howard has been giving back ever since. Howard, who had received a Make-A-Wish trip to Hawaii after her fight with cancer, is now a wish granter for Make-A-Wish Illinois, supporting and enhancing the wish granting journey for children with life-threatening illnesses.

Having a wish granted at such a vulnerable time in her life changed how she wanted to live her life, raise her children, and make a difference in her community.

Howard has also volunteered for Camp One Step by Children’s Oncology Services for the past 20 years. Camp One Step is a leader in providing empowering, supportive, educational and fun experiences for children (5-19) who have been diagnosed with cancer. They offer 11 different programs throughout the year serving children and families who live in Illinois, Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest.

“I volunteer because I see the positive effect it has on kids,” Howard says. “When kids have cancer, they think no one understands what they are going through and they sometimes lose the friends they once had. Through Camp One Step, it allows them to meet people similar to them and help them feel normal again.”

In addition, upon the birth of her son, she began working with youth in the inner-city encouraging them to stay in school and attend college. She also assists several mom groups to support families with soldiers recovering at U.S. Army hospitals by sending gifts or necessities, and making/shipping care packages to soldiers overseas.

Howard’s son Kieran, 22, and her daughter Kaelyn, 13, are following in their mom’s footprints in their service to the community and country. Kieran graduated West Point in May and is a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Kaelyn, while a busy eighth grader with school work, horseback riding, volleyball, track, band and more, makes time to help her mom with her volunteer work, including making monthly packages she sends to deployed troops.

Inspiration to others

Although Howard went to school to be an elementary school teacher, she has always been a “nerd” for science. She’s spent the last 12 years at AbbVie/Abbott as an administrative assistant in regulatory affairs and clinical development. During that time, Howard also earned a Bachelor of Science in health administration to further expand her knowledge of business management, health policy, strategic planning and health care ethics.

Howard’s passion for volunteering continues at work with her being the chair of community affairs for AbbVie’s Veterans Employee Resource Group. In addition, she co-led AbbVie projects for the past few years to renovate, furnish and provide homes for homeless veterans’ families; and also leads the charitable events committee for her department.

“When my son decided to enroll in the military, I wanted to embrace it and learn so I joined the Veterans Employee Resource Group to help,” Howard says. “Through my volunteering, I feel like I’m making the world a better place.”

And indeed she is and being recognized for her work. Working Mother magazine recently recognized Howard as a “Working Mother of the Year” in 2017.

“My mother juggles three precious objects, her dedication to family, career and philanthropy. Each one of these not only provides a sense of fulfillment for her, but serve to immeasurably improve the lives of friends, family, coworkers and even strangers alike,” Kieran, Howard’s son, says. “I can’t express how very proud I am of her for finally receiving the recognition that she has earned a million times over.”

AbbVie, a Working Mother Best Company
Working Mother magazine named AbbVie among their “Working Mother 100 Best Companies” for the fifth consecutive year for outstanding leadership in creating progressive programs, advancement of women, flexibility, child care and paid parental leave. The 100 Best Companies will be featured in the October/November issue (

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