Thank you so much Barbara for agreeing to be interviewed! First, please share a little bit about yourself.
|This photo was taken last year,|
when I still had my hair :D
I teach part-time, and my remaining time is spent painting, drawing, making cards, writing, and spending time with my kids. Sometimes I even manage to clean the apartment. That is, if there is no urgent painting that needs to be done! And there always is that card to be made. That's why we live in a creative chaos :D. I just love art, especially watercolors, illustrations and mixed-media/collage/folkart, playing around in Photoshop, browsing the internet for all that wonderful art information and eye candy.
I have written and illustrated a book. It was accepted by a publishing house and is available in every German bookstore or Amazon.de. It is only available in German language. Hopefully, one day, also in English (keeping my fingers crossed here!). It is a Christian encouragement gift book. I am currently working on my second book, and have plans and dreams for many more.
Tell us a little about how you were first diagnosed with breast cancer.
Well, actually I had breast cancer three times. The first time in 1997. The second time was 7 years later. The third time in 2010. The first time I discovered the lump myself. My left breast felt funny. As I had recently breastfed my daughter, my gynaecologist said that that was normal. Thank God I did not accept that diagnosis and insisted on a mammography, where the tumor was discovered. (I went to another gynaecologist after that!).
The second time, my radiologist found the tumor in my right breast during a normal routine scan and the tumor was removed.
The third time, I found out myself again. In January 2010, I had a routine mammography. This mammography did not show the tumor. A couple of months later I again had the feeling that "something" was wrong. The magnetic resonance images were ok. The ultrasonography was ok. The tumor was only discovered after a biopsy was taken. This just proves a doctor and a test are not 100% foolproof. Check your body/breasts yourself, listen to what your body is telling you, be firm if a doctor thinks you're imagining things and insist on further tests!
How did you and your family react to your diagnosis?
Every time, I was devastated. It was so incredible. I just could not believe it. Guess it was the shock. I felt angry, hurt, afraid. It took some time (every time) for the info to really sink in, I had to chew on it, digest it, accept it, and to get into the "trusting God and fighting cancer mode".
The first two times, my kids were smaller (the first time, they were one and two years old) and did not quite realize what was going on. The last time, the kids suffered more, as the chemo treatments were awful and I was flying off the handles with pain and the side-effects of the medications. We are all very glad that things have returned to normal.
Were there any friends or family members that helped you get through it?
My family members are all dead. I do have a sister, but she lives far away. She supported me by phone/email. Thank God I have a bunch of very good supportive friends living in Cologne. I had plenty of helpers and supporters every time I had cancer. Bless them, they babysat my children, took care of them when I was hospitalized, invited my kids over to their house when I felt weak and needed rest. Every time I got my chemo treatments and stayed in hospital, a friend would stay at my apartment to support my teenagers. My friends visited me, called me, helped me do household chores, cooked (during the last round of chemo treatment, they provided us with home-cooked warm food for three weeks!), listened when I felt like griping, held my hand ... I would not have been able to make it without them!
Tell us a little about your treatments?
First cancer: mastectomy, chemo therapy. Second cancer: operation, radiation, tamoxifen tablets. Third cancer: mastectomy, chemo therapy, herceptin infusions.
After the operation in September 2010, all normal routine scans were made (bone scintigraphy, magnetic resonance, ultrasonic scans, liver, lungs, kidneys etc) and were ok. Every three weeks my blood gets checked. The last operation was in September 2010. In spring 2011, I finished the last round of chemo therapies. I'm still getting Herceptin treatments every three weeks, over a period of one year.
What is your prognosis?
My doctors tend to be a bit vague about that - as I have survived cancer three times, they find it difficult to make any prognosis. My latest oncologist is quite confident that hopefully after having my Herceptin infusions for one year, the cancer will not come back again. So far, there are no metastases. And that's the way I want to keep it :D !
What would you say was one of the most challenging battles in your war against cancer?
The thought what would happen to my children if I would die. My husband died in 2000. I do not have family members who could take care of my children. The idea of leaving them behind as orphans had me driving up the wall. I come from a close-knit family and tend to be very protective with my kids (like a mother hen :D). I had made arrangements with a befriended family that in case I die, they would adopt my children. The knowledge that my kids would not end up in an orphanage helped me a lot. Another battle was the self-pity battle. "Why me again?" I don't have answers to that question, but I want to stop seeing myself as a victim and want to start seeing myself as a victor.
How do you deal with the emotional aspects of cancer?
I believe in God. So I screamed and ranted and cried and poured my heart out before Him. And then I asked God to heal me, to protect my children. It's a daily decision to trust Him with my life and the life of my kids. I have my "up days" and then I have my "down days". But I have found God to be a trustworthy shelter and a haven of safety, acceptance and love. I have decided to trust God, even if I do die early, that He will take very good care of my kids and that He has good plans for them.
What would you say to someone who was newly diagnosed with cancer?
Never give up hope! Fight against cancer! Your thoughts are very important and influence your health.
If there was any one piece of advice you could share now that you have gone through this battle, what would it be?
I can only say what I find important and what has helped me. Everybody is different and has different problems or ways to tackle them. But here is my advice:
I find it very important to keep my soul "clutter-free." I tend to worry, to fret, to think too much about things that have happened in the past. Or that could happen in the future. I sometimes nurse old grievances. I have found out that these things are not helpful and don't do me good. I have to "let go and let God." To forgive people who have hurt me, to ask for forgiveness where I was wrong. Untended old wounds can really fester. When my soul is sick, my body gets sick. To take better care of myself. To be more easygoing and loving, to others and to myself. To become more of a child gazing at the wonders of this universe and less of a burdened, worrisome adult. To not take myself so seriously. To love life, enjoy it, and to be thankful for all blessings. To surround myself with positive people who love and accept me.
Any final thoughts?
It was a few hours after my first cancer operation. My body was shivering with pain. It was a winter night and I looked out of the bleak hospital window. Outside it was dark and cold. A thought crossed my mind: what if I died tonight (or this week or next month?). What was important in my life? What would Jesus ask me if I would stand in front of him, face to face?
I knew for certain he would not ask me how much savings I had in my bank account, or if I always had A grades or a university degree or if I was the best employee in my department or company or drove the biggest car and lived in a mansion or had a lot of power and might. He would not even ask me if I had lots of success as an artist, or how many paintings I had painted, or did I win any awards? (Not that he does not care about my life and what I do – in fact he is very interested in that – but that these things pale in comparison to the more important things). I knew for certain that he would ask me: "Barbara, do you love people? your neighbors as you love yourself? your family? your children? do you love me? Do you love, Barbara ? Love is the most important thing of all".
That was some years ago. But it's still important for me today : Love is the only thing I can take along with me when I leave this earth. All the rest stays behind. Like one popular song said it some years ago "there is no u-haul on a hearse."
Thank you, Barbara. Your story, advice, and positive attitude is such a blessing to me and I'm sure it has and will touch many lives. It was an honor to interview you and I pray God will continue to touch your life with peace and perfect healing.
Below are links to Barbara's online presence, and just a few of her wonderful cards.
Click here for Barbara's blog
Click here for Barbara's GCU store
Click here for Barbara's Zazzle store
Click here for Barbara's book