My Cancer Story: Remember the Caregiver

Barbara and Cliff

Soon after Dr. Fried gave me the cancer diagnosis, I thought about Cliff.

He’d need to come to appointments, stand by me during surgery, and take care of me afterwards, possibly during months of chemo. He’d do the money and most of the insurance stuff. Cancer would curtail our summer plans and maybe the plans for the rest of our lives.

As the days went by, I knew it was my cancer. The burden was on me (In me! My uterus to be exact).

But I tried to be mindful of how this would affect Cliff, too.

Cliff’s mom and I used to talk for hours. Many of her pronouncements on life proved true, but one didn’t. “When you go into surgery, you go alone,” she told me, recounting the story of her thyroid operation at age forty. Nope. Not me. I took her son with me. I never felt alone.

Our good friend Lisa Flinn wrote Cliff this note two weeks after my surgery:


Lisa's Note

Others too, thought of Cliff. Visitors arrived with a favorite beer for him to enjoy while we all chatted. Those who prepared food sent plenty since they know my husband chows down with gusto.

I’ve made a new vow: Remember the caregiver!

Photo Top: Cliff and I at Mazen’s first birthday last fall. Note the grins of grandparents.

Photo Bottom: Lisa’s note. The “clear to see (even for me)” is in reference to her macular degeneration. Lisa’s a cancer survivor. Read her post, “Tai Chi Brings Balance after Breast Cancer” on Friend for the Ride. 

She’s one of my cancer role models! Others include Frances, Lisa W., Vibeke, Karen, Linda, Mark, and Haralee (Check out her sleepwear line!) Thanks, friends.


Tai Chi Brings Balance after Breast Cancer


A post by writer Lisa Flinn:

In early January 2008, I felt like Alice plummeting down the rabbit’s hole into a new reality. I’d just received biopsy results confirming that the invasive ductal mass in my left breast was cancerous. 

Needled by worry, I’d seen my doctor three weeks earlier, and she had arranged for an immediate diagnostic mammogram.

Swiftly, appointments were scheduled for me at the University of North Carolina Comprehensive Cancer Center. There I met my team of specialists– Claire Dees, Keith Amos, and Jan Halle. Each person I encountered was gentle and plain spoken about my diagnosis and treatment plan. My emotions vacillated between hollowed-out fear and the flickering sense of new courage and openness. 

On that same day, I volunteered for several research studies. Less than 72 hours later, I readied my claustrophobic self for an MRI. Climbing on and turning face down on a sled-like contraption, I surprised myself by laughing. And still laughing, I wiggled my boobs into two openings, then rode the sled into the tube.

My laughter didn’t last too long. The imaging revealed suspicious atypical cells in the other breast. Pathology on those cells concluded the presence of lobular cancer. I was seized by numb shock. Might this additional finding indicate need for complete bilateral mastectomies?

I collapsed into my husband’s tender love and care.

When the hospital called me in for even more imaging, my surgeon, Dr. Keith Amos, met me in the waiting room as I arrived. He explained the MRI findings, addressed my concerns, and assured me that partial mastectomies on both breasts would be my best course of care. The surgery, six years ago on January 28th, with lymph node removal, went very well.

Our friends, family, and church encircled Bill and me with the warmth and light of a summer sun on those scary winter days. And as I recovered from surgery, then radiation, I began to crave something new and positive for my body. I chose five things. One of them was Tai Chi.

In July, I began Tai Chi classes with Nina Maier in Hillsborough, NC, and I was enthralled.

It took three years of practice to gain a rudimentary ability to move through the 108 positions of the Wu (Hao) form.


More importantly, NIna led me along an ancient path towards intention, balance, patience, strength, and a mental and physical readiness to act. In Nina’s ongoing class, she also teaches Shiba Luohan Gong for breath, flexibility and energy work.

It’s 2014, and I’m still loving the class!

The concentration needed to learn and improve is good for the mind. The practice is wonderful for the body. The mind and the body house and rouse the spirit. Tai Chi has been a true avenue to my healing and overall health. 

Lisa Flinn is a year-round organic gardener who delights her family and friends with home-canned creations.

As the author of twenty-two books for children, teens, and adults, she appreciates the contrast between her all-season outdoor labors and her fruitful diligence at the desk.

One Moon: Learn more about Lisa’s  instructor, Nina Maier, on her website.

Photo One: Gongs made  from oxygen and argon tanks by Lisa’s husband, welder Bill Flinn

Photo Two: Lisa strikes a pose called “Grasp Sparrow’s Tail.”

Photo Three: Lisa, who has been my writing partner for twenty-five years.

Lisa Flinn