My Story: Cathy Barker

From Cancer to Capitol Hill – One Woman’s Six-Year Journey


By Candice Graham

It was six and a half years ago when Cathy Barker was visiting her husband in the hospital and began to cough. “I don’t like that,” said her husband’s pulmonologist, Dr. Yune-Gill Jeong, who overheard her dry hack. “Be at my office at 8:00 tomorrow morning.”

The next day was a flurry of x-rays and startling news – Dr. Jeong had found a shadow under Cathy’s right clavicle, causing him to schedule a biopsy. She was soon diagnosed with lung cancer – the leading cancer killer in both women and men.

Within a week, a 2 centimeter adenocarcinoma had been found and her upper left lung lobe had been removed. After removal of her lung, Cathy’s oncologist, Dr. Jitendra Gandhi, prescribed the standard rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. Then, after testing her tumor for mutations, he gave her Tarceva, a targeted gene therapy medication. A genetic type of cancer (and thus not caused by smoking), this non-small cell lung cancer was the same type that Cathy’s mother passed away from at only 54 years old.

Because lung cancer can be genetic and often causes no symptoms, Cathy felt fine even though her cancer had progressed to stage 3. While the dry cough that set the cancer diagnosis into motion was ultimately the result of a new prescription, and not cancer, it was the blessing needed to find the cancer in time for a full recovery – something only half of those with lung cancer experience.

“There were no signs that I noticed,” she says. Because of this, it’s especially important to have screenings for lung cancer – and even more so if you’re genetically predisposed,
she cautions.

After a life spent teaching high school, Cathy now spends her days raising awareness for lung cancer and advocating on behalf of the American Lung Association as a member of the local ALA council and ALA’s National Patient Advisory Board. A recent trip to D.C. gave her the opportunity to join with survivors from across the country who met with their state’s senators and congressmen to put a personal face to lung cancer.

This advocacy, she says, is now a major focus of her life. “I did not die of lung cancer and my mother did. I feel that since I have been given the gift of prolonged life, I should spend that time actively involved in the fight against lung cancer.”


Cathy recently returned from a cruise around the Adriatic Sea. There, she visited Croatia and hiked, toured, and celebrated her 52nd wedding anniversary with her husband, Mickey.

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