1,000 Families Project: Barbara, Alexander and Julie

A woman whose family has endured so much loss channels her grief into hope for others to have a better future.

My name is Barbara Miller and I am a 39-year-old mother of two. My son is turning 20 and my daughter just celebrated her 17th birthday. The three of us are warriors-we stick together through thick and thin and we are committed to making a difference.

Why are we so inspired? Like many North Americans, we’ve known cancer our entire lives.

Survival has improved for many of those diagnosed with cancer, however, this is not true for all cancer types. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, an estimated two in five Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetimes, and one in four will die from it
When I was only six-years-old, I lost a person so close to my heart when my mom, Julie Ann, lost her battle with cancer. The disease started in one of the muscles in her leg. About 20 months after the cancer was found, my mother had my younger brother. Shortly thereafter, she died of the disease.

As I was so young when my mom died, all I remember prior to her passing is sitting with my mom and doing crafts. We loved colouring, completing puzzles, creating those stained glass windows with the little beads and my mom even crocheted. Now I’ve developed my own passion for crocheting. It makes me feel relaxed and happy, but most importantly, it reminds me of my mom and takes me back to when we used to do crafts and make things together.

After my mom passed, I developed this want to have a little girl and name her after my mom, in memory of someone that meant the world to my family and me. So, that is what I did. When I look at my daughter, she reminds me of my mom so much-both in the way she smiles and her eyes, as well. I hope that I can give both my kids the positive memories my own mother gave me.

Sadly, though, my family’s connection to cancer does not stop there.

One of my best and closest friends died of cancer in 2014, when she was only 39 years old (my current age, which can be quite terrifying). The disease was first found in her breast, and then it spread to her liver and brain. Cancer took her away from her family and friends. She always loved making people smile no matter how she was feeling, which motivates me to give life my all.

Still, no matter how hard I try to keep my family safe from the disease, eating right and exercising, just last year my children lost a parent to cancer, too. Their father passed of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at a young 42.

He was undergoing treatment, but his body was also hit with pneumonia, making it difficult for doctors to treat the cancer in his already very weak system. He was unfortunately on oxygen concentrators the majority of the time, sometimes using a portable machine in case he wanted to try to get up and a little active. When it comes to portable oxygen concentrators, the best products can be surprisingly small and portable. Since they are wearable they will barely impact your lifestyle, allowing you to keep doing what you enjoy, but unfortunately, he was already too weak by this point.

My daughter and her father were especially close. In the spring, they would go out on the ATV and even dirt bike together. They are usually super enthusiastic when it comes to these things. Before setting out for the ride, he used to check for the air filters, batteries, and sometimes even look for options like Raptor 700 plastics for the body. I remember her father bringing her back home, both completely covered in mud, with the biggest smiles on their faces. They had so much fun together, and sadly, cancer has put a stop to that. There will be no more spring ATV rides.

I have met only a few people who have beaten cancer, one of them being my nephew. He was diagnosed with leukemia before his second birthday but thankfully, is now a cancer survivor. My children’s grandmother is also a kidney cancer survivor and fortunately, one of my neighbours has beaten the disease three times!

Throughout every day, I think of all the wonderful times my family has had with our loved ones-past and present. Though I am thankful many members of my family are at peace and no longer suffering, I wish they never had to fight in the first place.

It is with heartbreak that I say my story is not unique. There are so many people who have similar experiences with cancer (and other diseases, too). Experiencing such loss can make a family feel helpless. It can make it very hard to heal and very hard to grieve.

My children and I have signed up to complete the Rexall OneWalk to Conquer Cancer benefiting Princess Margaret Cancer Centre with hope that we can heal, strengthen our bond and remember the people we love who are no longer with us.

Though OneWalk cannot bring my mother, my friend or my children’s father back, it can give us hope for the future and it can help us remember the good times – the days of dirt bike rides and crafting.

You can join me in the event by visiting www.onewalk.ca or by calling 416-815-9255. This is something we need to all do together!

This is #1000families post number 203. Do you have a family story of your own to contribute to the 1,000 Families Project? Or do you know a family that might want to do so? Learn more about how the series got started and how to get involved here. You can find all of the #1000families posts here.
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Barbara Miller

About Barbara Miller

Barbara Miller is 39-years-old and a mother of two. She lives in Brampton, Ontario and is participating in the Rexall OneWalk to Conquer Cancer benefiting Princess Margaret Cancer Centre on September 10, 2016 with her two kids, ages 17 and 20. Barbara has known cancer since she was six years old and hopes she and her children can support The Princess Margaret in their mission to conquer cancer in this lifetime. View all posts by