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Breast cancer patient: helping others is good medicine

Network - Spring 2012

When diagnosed with breast cancer nine years ago, Katrina Barlow’s initial reaction was fear.

“I was afraid, but I had faith I could overcome it,” she says. “My time at MD Anderson was divine — a blessing — what’s a better word than amazing? They took care of me and continue to care for me.”

In December 2010, Barlow returned to 
MD Anderson, where doctors found the cancer had spread to several lymph nodes in her neck.

In early January 2011, she began chemotherapy and radiation and underwent several surgeries. Her treatment continued until June.

“Like an army, the medical staff filed in and helped me beat cancer,” she says. “Now I get a Zolodex injection in my stomach once a month to keep my body from producing estrogen. I’m still cancer-free with no cancer cells in my blood.”

Since then, Barlow has volunteered with the American Cancer Society and has even begun her own organization. Living and Fighting Fabulously Inc. is a non-profit group that helps women battling breast cancer by providing programs, services and community support.

A hairdresser and stylist, Barlow offers women in cancer treatment makeovers, hair replacement, medical expense support, healthy nutrition and exercise plans, along with a variety of other services.

“Losing your hair can be traumatizing for a person. I’m blessed to be able to help these women find their individuality again,” she says.

Faith, family key to recovery

After her original diagnosis in 2003, Barlow closed her hairdressing salon in Beaumont, Texas, and relocated her two sons, Julius and Malik, to Houston. Since her recovery, however, she’s once again a business owner.

Salon’s on the Lake in Pearland, Texas, has allowed her to begin recovering from the emotional, financial and mental distress caused by her fight with cancer.

“This salon is much larger so I work with an assistant. I work when I feel healthy. Doing hair helps me find peace. It’s like medicine,” Barlow says.

Her older son, Julius, served in the U.S. Navy and is now enrolled in college, and Malik, 17, enjoys basketball and will graduate from high school next year.
“I was a single mother living with cancer. I got most of my support from my faith and from my church family,” she says.

For years, she lived with intense pain in her hip. “It limited my movement,” she says. “But I wanted to stay away from taking medication after all the treatment I had been through.”

"If you fear it, you can't overcome it. My life has changed for the better."

MD Anderson experts assisted Barlow by teaching her meditation to alleviate the pain.

“The doctors helped me with stress, anxiety, the possibility of dying. Otherwise I would have been completely lost. They helped me realize that things happen to make you stronger,” Barlow says. “Now I know all things are possible.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center