BAIE VERTE, NL — Barbara Saunders of Woodstock can recall vividly the day a doctor looked her in the eyes and told her she needed immediate surgery or she would die.
She had been ill for quite some time, and medical professionals were struggling to narrow down exactly what was happening and ultimately find a resolution.
Just after Christmas in 2007, she says she left her daughter’s home in Gander and told her she would see her again in the spring. She had no idea that within a month, cancer would bring them together again.
Saunders stepped up to the microphone at the Baie Verte and Area Relay for Life to spread some inspiration among her fellow survivors. With her husband Calvin by her side — as he was every moment of her illness, diagnosis and fight — she shared some insight with the people who attended the annual event, telling them what it is like to receive the nearly unbearable news of cancer and to fight for your life.
Before she knew she had cancer, Saunders had been back and forth to the hospital because she was not feeling well. She received an enema in hopes it would clear her colon. It didn’t work. After her fourth visit to the hospital, she was admitted. The health care team attempted to clear the blockage, but her stomach began to swell. She was told things were more serious than anticipated — a kinked bowel or blockage — and she was rushed to hospital in Grand Falls-Windsor.
“I was so sick I thought I was going to die,” she said.
A CT scan revealed just how serious things were. The doctor delivered those frightful words.
“At that point, I was so sick, I didn’t care if I lived or died,” she said.
She underwent surgery that night — Jan. 24, 2008. Her entire upper bowel was removed and she had to have a colostomy.
A week later, Saunders was told she had a malignant tumor.
“I was very fortunate to be alive,” she said.
For the next four months, she said she was in and out of hospital. One time, she was admitted for a month and a half due to blood clots.
“It was a very trying time for me and my family,” she said.
The colostomy was so troublesome, she could not undergo treatments for the cancer until it was reversed. That finally happened in April.
Twelve rounds of chemotherapy began in May. The great news of cancer free came after treatments ended in October.
At least, that’s what she thought.
In August 2011, a CT scan revealed a lump in her breast. A biopsy revealed she would have to fight another form of cancer. A month later, she had her breast removed, and she said four of the worst treatments she had taken followed.
“I wanted to give up, but my family encouraged me to keep taking them and that maybe the next one would be easier,” she said.
Saunders lost her hair, and said the treatments did not get easier.
In 2013, she said a mammogram revealed a lump in her other breast. The mass was removed, and she was told it would have eventually been cancerous. She had to go to St. John’s for another three weeks for 16 radiation treatments.
“As I look back on my journey with cancer, I am so thankful for my faith in God,” she said. “He never left me alone. I knew that he was with me in my pain.
“I also thank God for my family, who stood by me — especially my husband Calvin. I could not have gotten through without their encouragement.”
She proudly stood before everybody to say she is grateful for finding the will to fight, for not giving up — to be able to announce she is a cancer survivor.