On the Monday after Christmas in 1992, central Ohioan Frieda Barnhart waited nervously in her doctor's office for the results of the biopsy. She wasn't supposed to be there. And every minute made her grow more worried.
"No one in my family had breast cancer," Barnhart said. "Am I going to live? I have a son with multiple disabilities."
The doctor opened the door and told her the biopsy was malignant. She was one of the 70 percent of breast cancer patients with no family history of the disease. Later that afternoon, Barnhart had amastectomy. After surgery, she started chemotherapy. While others worried about returning unwanted holiday gifts, Barnhart worried about whether she would celebrate another Christmas with her family. "Treatment takes you closer to death than you ever want to be," she said. "You are so vulnerable."
Barnhart said the cancer journey lit a spark within her. "I was a very shy, introverted person." Not any more. Barnhart took bold steps to fight back and invites others passionate about the fight against breast cancer to join with her.
Barnhart is now a 15-year volunteer for the American Cancer Society and a leader in the Society's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk of Columbus. This non-competitive 5K walk has raised nearly $1 million for Ohio breast cancer research, advocacy, education, and patient services. Since 1993, four million walkers nationwide have raised more than $280 million through Making Strides.
Robby Stephens, event director for Making Strides of Columbus, said, "Frieda's passion is contagious. And she's unstoppable. Her work has helped countless women throughout Ohio with breast cancer. This event would not be as successful without her."
In 1993, after completing surgery and chemotherapy, Barnhart decided to help other women battling this disease. She volunteered for the Society's Reach to Recovery program, which pairs breast cancer survivors with newly diagnosed patients to provide understanding, support and hope. "The first woman I visited was terrified," she said. Barnhart could relate. She remembered how scared she was when doctors told her she had cancer. "I was a basket case," she recalled. "They couldn't calm me down."
Another newly diagnosed breast cancer patient, Barnhart said, was "concerned about her children, about living, about getting through the treatment. (My visit) was an opportunity for her to see someone that had gone through cancer and was living their lives normally again."
Barnhart was becoming a symbol of hope to women throughout central and southeastern Ohio. Over the next decade and a half, she helped more than 75 women in over 30 counties cope with breast cancer.
Barnhart reached out to women dealing with breast cancer who had also been diagnosed with schizophrenia, mental health issues and developmental disabilities. Her son Andy, who suffers from cerebral palsy and autism, has given Barnhart added strength to help those most in need.
Beth Krouse, health promotions coordinator for the American Cancer Society, has known Barnhart for a dozen years. "She totally believes that no woman should have to face breast cancer alone," Krouse said. "She has the willingness to go the extra mile."
Breast cancer patients interested in the Reach to Recovery program or other free support programs can call the American Cancer Society toll free at (800) ACS-2345, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Barnhart is also passionate about the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk. She signed up to walk and started an online fundraising page.
The money raised during Making Strides helps breast cancer patients in every corner of the state. In addition to supporting free information and ongoing support, the funds also support the Society's breast cancer research. The Society's cutting-edge research grants helped develop treatments including Tamoxifen and Herceptin, which treat breast cancer and prevent it from recurring.
"Frieda is a leader because she puts her money where her mouth is," Stephens said. "She doesn't sit back."
"I have terrific relationships with people that I would have never been involved with," Barnhart said. "It's a sisterhood. I can make a difference."
Breast cancer is one of the most common diseases for Ohio women. Nearly all breast cancers can be treated successfully if they are detected early. An annual mammogram beginning at age 40 is the most effective way to detect breast cancer at an early, curable stage. Learn about breast cancer's risk factors and sign up for a free mammogram reminder email at www.cancer.org/makingstrides.
To sign up to walk, please visit: www.cancer.org/makingstrides.
Courtesy of the American Cancer Society