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Surviving Cancer: One Woman's Journey

January 15, 2020 | Fisher-Titus Medical Center

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Barb Schafer, employed 38 years at Fisher-Titus, is a Surgery Charge Nurse. This is her breast cancer story, from her own perspective, in her own words.

Given the choice, I would never want cancer. But it changed my life in a positive way – because I chose to make it positive.

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By the grace of God, I discovered my cancer in September 2015 and followed up the next day with my surgeon, Dr. Jayne Minier. I feel that she saved my life because she believed me even though I had a normal mammogram a month earlier, a recent normal breast exam, and my cancer was difficult to feel.

A needle biopsy confirmed I had an aggressive TripleNegative Breast Cancer. A lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy with Dr. Minier and Dr. Eric Schmidt revealed my cancer had spread to a lymph node. Dr. Schmidt placed an infusa-port as my oncologist, Dr. Brian Murphy, recommended chemotherapy. I underwent chemotherapy every two weeks from October through January at the Fisher-Titus Cancer Care Center. That was followed by radiation therapy with radiation oncologist Dr. Phillip Engeler.

It was a tough battle. When treatment was completed in April 2016, I was grateful I was alive but inside I was terrified, as I was no longer fighting the cancer. I kept wondering, “will it come back?” I had been fighting to survive and now that I was done with treatment, I was being pushed back into the real world which was no longer recognizable to me. I felt lost because cancer had changed me. Even though everyone thought I was the same person, I was not. Everyone said, “you look so good,” but they didn't understand that I had changed. My emotional and physical healing had just begun. I wasn’t prepared for that.

I needed to figure out how to navigate this new life. I joined an online Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Survivor group to connect with women going through the same experience. Their feedback helped validate that my feelings were normal. It helped to understand the “new me.”

I began my journey back to health with physical therapy at Fisher-Titus to strengthen myself. I walked during my treatment when I could – and added hiking, biking and eventually yoga. My faith was an important part of my healing process. It kept me calm, and it still does.

I was given a second chance to live and didn’t want to waste a single day. Cancer gave me the opportunity to share my experience to help others, and that is a gift.

What brings passion and joy to your life? Find your answer and start living it. Cancer forced me to stop and figure it out. I began traveling and making many beautiful memories. I take time to enjoy my family and friends, and take on challenges and risks that I would not have before.

I am now stronger, healthier, happier and live with more gratitude and faith. My purpose is to give other survivors hope that they can have a better life. I am forever grateful to Fisher-Titus for providing me with such exceptional care so close to home. The physicians, nurses, and radiology and oncology departments were overwhelmingly warm, caring and supportive. They provided me with the best possible care that I could have had, especially during such an emotional time going through my cancer diagnosis and treatment. I only have praises for them. They exceeded my expectations!

Remember, you’re a survivor! You deserve a great life! Life after cancer is worth celebrating!