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Reader story: Barbara Bardak

Tomorrow is my 41st Birthday. Most people focus on their 40th birthday, but my 41st has a lot of special meaning to me. It’s five years of living with Cancer and kicking it’s butt every day! I love my birthday! It’s another year I have been blessed to spend with my family and friends. It’s a day I try to reflect on my life and be thankful for all that I have been blessed with in my life. It humbles me and gives me a clearer perspective on life. I am 41 years young and living with stage IV breast cancer. I was diagnosed in December 2006 when I was 36 years old with stage III breast cancer. The shock, the denial and in the end the REALITY of cancer was overwhelming. “Welcome to the Club!”

I am married for 14 years to Steve who is a wonderful husband and father. We have three amazing children; Emily, Christopher, and Andrew. My family is everything to me, and one of the reasons I fight so hard to beat this horrible disease! Believe me, if it can happen to me it can happen to anyone. I initially was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer. I had a component called HER2+ which made my cancer very aggressive. I had a rough road ahead of me. I survived surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and still more surgeries. I thought this is the toughest thing I will ever endure, but I survived! I was in remission for about 2 ½ years before it metastasized to my lungs and lymph nodes in 2010. I was devastated to say the least. I was truly SCARED! It didn’t seem like anyone could give me any guarantees. I really thought this was the beginning of the end. Then something inside me said "NO WAY!" This is not happening to you. I took control by switching doctors and surrounding myself with my supportive and loving family and wonderful friends. I gained such strength from everyone that once again I came through the darkness! I can write my story moment by moment, but I think it’s more important to speak about what cancer has taught me: “That which doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.”

I would like people to understand what it’s like to live every day with cancer. If you let it, cancer will deteriorate every aspect of your life. It has a way of stripping your life down to the core. As a woman, I can say breast cancer stripped me of all the things that made me feel beautiful. I used to say first my breasts, then my hair and nails, and on top of all that, they gave me so much steroids to counteract the chemo I gained over 40 pounds! I was feeling awesome! (LOL). I remember it like it was yesterday. There would be days when I would look into the mirror and cry. I would tell myself that this too will pass. I would say, “You are a strong beautiful woman and you can get through this day.” On these days, I had to dig deep inside to find the strength to go on. It wasn’t an easy road, but I survived and I am a stronger person because of it. It’s very difficult to watch the people who love you be so sad or hurt because you are sick. It was extremely difficult for my husband and children. I tried to put on a strong front to make it easier on them, but I could see it in their eyes. I made a choice at the beginning to be positive and handle this horrible situation with a smile on my face because it could always be worse. I try to take something positive out of each day and situation - good or bad. If nothing else a sense of humor goes a long way! This is where exercise has been my savior. It makes me feel good and it gives me an outlet especially on bad days. My biggest side effect is fatigue. Exercise actually gives me energy. It has had a positive and profound effect on my healing. I am a woman who is living with metastasized breast cancer. I am living proof that research and a positive mental attitude can save your life! I receive a drug called herceptin intravenously every three weeks. This drug only became available to women like me who are positive for HER2+ cancer about a year before I was diagnosed. Before this drug basically you received a death sentence. I do not tell you this to feel bad for me. I say it because it is true. I am trying to stress the importance of cancer research. Without it there will never be a cure! Today I am feeling great! I am training for the NYC Marathon on November 6th. I am running in memory of a friend, Lisa Sirico. I am raising money for cancer research for Memorial Sloan Kettering in her name. I am also running for all those who can’t, and to show everyone that you can do whatever you set your mind to. Running has always been my B.F.F. On my long training runs when I think I can’t go on. I dig deep inside to find the strength I once needed to just get through the day. I remember my long road and all the obstacles I have overcome. I keep going for all of us so that one day our children will never have to endure this horrible disease! Cancer has taught me to never take life for granted. Enjoy every moment and make every moment count. Do what brings joy to your life and to others.

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