Elizabeth (Liz) Barker, Montgomery County
I had a 17-month-old son and was six months pregnant when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was 34 years old, had no family history and was in very good health. Doctors recommended that I abort the pregnancy to “save myself.” They said my child would be slow and small because of exposure to chemotherapy. That child is now 25 years old, has always been a varsity athlete, and is currently on full scholarship to get his Ph.D. in neuroscience.
That breast cancer diagnosis came at a time when I felt broken inside. A year before that I had lost my little girl Lauren who was only three years old. Lauren was born with Down’s syndrome and had significant health issues. She spent her first five months in the hospital, and then came home with a tracheostomy and a tube in her stomach to eat. Within five years I had been pregnant three times, and felt like I’d spent five years in unrelenting stress.
I credit my longevity to two things: an extremely positive outlook and keeping active and healthy through yoga. After completing traditional medical treatments I saw a homeopathic physician who gave me a regimen of herbs to cleanse out the toxins from chemo. He also practices astrology and every year I went to him for a reading. Year after year he would say that when the time was right, I’d be sharing my story and be in the public eye. The year that would have been Lauren’s 25th birthday, I did a fundraiser in her memory for the Arc Alliance, a nonprofit focused on people with special needs. It filled me with love and energy, and I said now it’s time. I pledged to start exercising and to write a book about my experiences. “Changed by Chance” took two years to complete and was published this September.
As Irving Berlin said, “Life is 10% how you make it and 90% how you take it.” When you’re faced with adversity, I say practice the three R’s: Recognize: whatever you’re facing and own it; Reflect: become educated to understand your options; and React: take action and move forward based on that research.