By Cathy Clark
Caregivers come from different walks of life, are different ages and are related to those requiring care in various ways. There is no one face of a caregiver. But if care could be personified and if there were a face of a caregiver, it would be that of Laura Barber.
This strong, talented woman, herself a breast cancer survivor (15 years out), has a public relations background and is a voice-over artist, certified Pilates instructor and Master Gardener (evidenced by the beautiful, peaceful garden she and her husband, Steve, have created).
Fiercely loyal, Laura committed to care for Steve 24 hours a day, seven days a week, knowing the responsibility would last at least 100 days following his bone marrow transplant. Such a commitment on the part of a caregiver is required for patients to receive a bone marrow transplant. In reality, the journey spanned years as Steve sought a diagnosis and underwent numerous therapies before the transplant.
Laura says her experience during Steve’s chemotherapy, stem cell transplant and follow-up care at Moffitt is what drove her to volunteer at the cancer center. She proudly displays her badge as a volunteer with Moffitt’s Patient and Family Advisory Program. And more recently, she was invited to join the Patient and Family Advisory Council.
Established in 2005, Moffitt’s Patient And Family Advisory Program brings the patient and family perspective into everything done at the cancer center. A highlight for the volunteers is a Christmas Eve tradition in which they give blankets and holiday cards to patients in the hospital. She and Steve have distributed blankets the past two Christmas Eves. “That has been an incredible experience for the patients and caregivers to see us,” says Laura. “They just seem so relieved to see there is normalcy on the other side of their journey — a new normal, yes, but certainly there is hope!”
As gratifying as her volunteer work and other interests are, Laura describes herself as “100 percent caregiver.” Her life has returned to her own new normal. She is back to playing tennis and does not need to rush home from the grocery store or her myriad errands to check on Steve as she did during those 100 days post-transplant. She is thrilled that Steve has regained his health, has been back at work full time for years and has even taken up running again. Six years have passed since the transplant, it has been years since he had to “live in a bubble” and their active social life has returned.
Would she take on this caregiver role if she had it to do all over again? The answer is a resounding “Yes!”
“This journey has been frightening, difficult, exhausting and emotional. It has also been enlightening, empowering and humbling,” says Laura. “Love, family, friendship and faith were the cornerstones for our success.”
On her February 2013 “Valentine” blog post, Laura wrote: “One of Steve’s balloons given to him in the BMT wing on his second birthday [his transplantiversary], October 13, is still alive and kicking in our den. It is a heart that says ‘Love you!’ … and I do love that man!”
For caregivers like Laura, deep love and strong faith go a long way.
This article is part of Moffitt Momentum® magazine, a publication that shares portraits of hope, innovation and triumph, all leading to the same end: beating cancer. Click here to access the full issue of the magazine in PDF format.