Keeping Cancer on the Defensive
Barber revels now in the role that he plays, with his as mother as a survivor and he as a public figure, he gets to tell her story and advocate for cancer patients everywhere. “One of the beauties of my former job as an NFL player is that I developed an influence,” he said.
“One of the best parts about me spending my career in New York was that people paid attention to me, When I was playing, and even now, I have a voice that can draw awareness to important causes, cancer being one of them. Whenever I get the opportunity, whether it’s a cancer walk or a hospital visit or an opportunity to raise funds for cancer research, I jump into it.
“As we all know, cancer affects every family in the world. By raising awareness, even if you feel like you’re not making a difference, you’re making someone know that you care about them. That’s the most important thing that I can do.”
More than just raising awareness for people with breast cancer, Barber is hoping that he can raise awareness for seemingly healthy people with a history of the deadly disease in their families. While, obviously, fewer men than women are regularly diagnosed, the American Cancer Society estimates that 480 men die from breast cancer each year.
“After my mom’s diagnosis, and treatment and survival, it has changed the way I think about health for me and my family and my extended family,” he said. “The statistics are there: if you have someone in your family with cancer, it’s possible that you do, as well. Obviously, breast cancer is not prevalent in males, but it does exist. I think it changed me in that I became more aware of anything that might be wrong with me. Physically, I used to ignore things that I don’t ignore anymore.”
For a running back, there are no teammates more valuable than those on the offensive line. The players stationed there–a center, two guards and two tackles–are responsible for blocking the defense, providing players like Barber the space to run free, and putting them in the best possible position to score, or succeed.
For a person with cancer, or a family member of one, there’s no teammate more valuable than an oncologist. Oncologists provide patients the resources necessary to overcome a cancer diagnosis, and information specific to a patient’s circumstances that simply can’t be found on the internet, he told the audience.
More than that, oncologists have the opportunity to relay this information in a way that will induce less panic than statistics and references read on the screen of a computer or smartphone. Geraldine credits her oncologist, William Fintel, MD, of Blue Ridge Cancer Care in Salem, Virginia for providing her with the information she needed, allowing her to have hope for her future.
“Oncologists are so important because as a patient, and from my perspective as the family member of a patient, you don’t know the answer,” Barber said. “You can go Google it, and you can look in these different places on the internet for more information, but until an oncologist tells you in a calming way that things are going to be okay, you won’t believe it. Having the proper information and an understanding of your diagnosis are the most important things that you can get, and the only way you can get them is by having trusted physicians and oncologists who will tell it to you straight.”
On Facebook recently, CURE magazine asked people what cancer-related issue they had the most difficulty finding quality information about. Among the responses, the most common was associated to experiences.
For the former running back, crossing the goal line at CFS would mean he was able to successfully communicate the importance of empathy. “Leaving dark holes that are filled with imaginations, positive or negative, is never a good thing,” he said. “Anecdotal stories of success (are critical), because having hope is the most important thing. Hope keeps you living when sometimes you feel hopeless.”
“Once darkness starts to creep in, everything seems to start falling downhill. Don’t let darkness creep in.”
Barber will openly admit things became scary for him when he learned that his mother had to undergo her double-mastectomy; he knew that it was bound to change her profoundly. Geraldine says it’s important that her son speak to people involved with cancer, because in one of the audiences listening to him, there may be some other mother’s child who needs to know that he or she is not alone.
In the time of his mother’s cancer, it was something else that she said to him that still resonates, more than two decades after the fact.
She said, “I have to get busy living, or get busy dying. I have a lot of life left to live.”
That is how she has lived her life, and how her family has lived it with her.