By Graham Sweeney
Collierville native Sandy Barrios has traveled the world with her husband, John. She has opened her own gourmet food business, Bazaar, on Town Square and spent 35 years successfully working in the insurance field.
She recently watched her son, Joseph, walk down the wedding aisle in Nashville.
However, this week Barrios is scheduled to undergo a lumpectomy procedure, another step in her fight against breast cancer.
Noting that she has no family history of cancer, Barrios said she was not considered “high risk in any shape or form.”
“I was just that one-in-eight ladies who are affected,” she added.
The 59-year-old found a lump on March 9 while performing a self-exam in the shower.
“I was in a doctor’s office within two days,” she recalled. “I had a biopsy and ultimately started chemo on April 15.”
Barrios caught the cancer in Stage 1. It was determined to be “triple positive” for estrogen, progesterone and HER2.
She has already undergone 16 rounds of chemotherapy, including four rounds of Adriamycin, nicknamed the “red devil” due to its scarlet hue and unpleasant side effects.
While a myriad of other medicines protected her from the nausea and other side effects often associated with chemo, the treatments did impact her active lifestyle.
“It wiped me out,” she said. “I had never had any illness before that lasted more than five days. So, this was God’s way of teaching me patience, to say the least. It is a lesson I’m still learning on a daily basis.”
Once her surgery is complete, Barrios will begin radiation therapy next month.
Since being diagnosed, Barrios said she has been stunned to learn how many survivors she already knew.
Soon after being diagnosed, she found herself in a kitchen at dinner party with seven other women.
“Surprisingly,” she said, “five of the seven had had breast cancer. I was just shocked. I had no idea.”
Knowing that the other women had beaten their cancer was “encouraging and inspiring.”
Barrios also called the support from family members, colleagues, customers and even strangers “phenomenal.”
“It is just unreal,” she said.
She recalled one instance when her staff of six surprised her by donning pink wigs at the shop one day. Her store manager even surprised her with a goody bag after every chemo treatment.
“They have been the best,” she said, smiling.
While Barrios draws inspiration from her support group, she draws comfort from a quote given by renowned Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.
“At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can,” it reads.
Barrios is also moved by the stories of younger women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
“When I started (treatment),” she noted, “I was like, ‘God, if you’re going to give this to someone, give it to me and save a young person.’ I’m on this side of it. I’ve had my babies. I’m not ready, but when it comes down to it, I’ve been all over the world and done many of the things I’ve wanted to do.”
Her advice for someone recently diagnosed is, “Don’t panic!”
“You hear the ‘C’ word and you are a deer in headlights,” she said. “Yes, it can be terminal. However, in most cases, it is not.”
Barrios, who is being treated by the staff at West Cancer Center, called the innovative facility “very uplifting.”
“It is such a treasure to have here,” he said.
Barrios said the moment the diagnosis “got real” was when chemo treatments began to rob her of her usually long hair.
“You feel like you look sick,” she said. “You don’t look sick until then.”
She remembers waking up with a “mouthful of hair.”
“You know it is coming,” she said. “But you are thinking, ‘mine’s not going to fall out.’”
It was then that Barrios decided to let her husband shave what remained of her hair.
“It was the hardest thing I’d ever done and he’d ever done,” she recalled.
Barrios offered advice to others going through chemotherapy treatment.
“Keep as normal of a schedule as you can,” she said. “Keep as busy as you feel like doing. The days that I stayed home were the days that I would get depressed. Make every day count. You will make it.”
Perhaps more than anything, Barrios stressed early detection and self-examinations.
“You can have a mammogram and something can pop up 30 days later,” she said. “You know your body better than anybody else. So, if you feel like something is wrong, get (to the doctor) quick!”