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Duchnowski: Battling breast cancer one step at a time

Barbara Barrett (center) poses with two other breast cancer survivors she met at the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer last year in Chicago. Barrett, her husband, Wayne, and her friend Joslyn Gould are planning to walk again this summer.
Barbara Barrett (center) poses with two other breast cancer survivors she met at the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer last year in Chicago. Barrett, her husband, Wayne, and her friend Joslyn Gould are planning to walk again this summer.

Barbara Barrett postponed her mastectomy to walk in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer just months after she found a lump in her right breast.

She discovered the lump in September 2011 while vacationing in Montana and was diagnosed with cancer the next month. She doesn’t remember what inspired her to sign up for the Avon Walk – a commercial or a flier or something else – but she wanted to tackle the two-day walk while she was still fighting cancer.

“I needed to do it while it was still an open wound, so to speak,” said Barrett, a Genoa resident since 1997. “I was bald; I was the quintessential person to be out there doing this.”

So, she donned a pink hat, pink shorts and a T-shirt listing her team’s name – Barbie’s Rack Attack – plus the names of her teammates, others touched by cancer and her two children. She tackled the marathon-length route in June after completing a few short training walks, the longest about four miles.

She made it 13.1 miles, and did it again the next day. She hopes to be doing it every year now.

“You’re so inspired,” Barrett said. “It just carries you. You just don’t want to stop. You don’t think about it.”

Her journey against cancer has been a little longer, though. She had a bilateral mastectomy a couple of weeks after the walk and finished radiation therapy. She’s been battling an infection, but hopes to finish with reconstructive surgeries soon.

She still needs to have a CT scan to determine whether the cancer is gone.

“I haven’t gotten the official word that I’m cancer-free, but in my heart, I am confident I am,” she said, complimenting her medical team.

She hasn’t been fighting alone. Her husband, Wayne Barrett, walked with her last year, along with Wayne’s aunt – who had completed eight breast cancer walks for Susan G. Komen for the Cure – and Genoa resident Joslyn Gould.

They had local fundraisers, and the 43-year-old mother of two remembers plenty of people bringing meals to her house when she had chemotherapy.

“This is such a great community here,” Barrett said. “Everyone helps each other out. I’m just addicted to that.”

You can help them again this year. Barbie’s Rack Attack is recruiting new members, and while each walker is required to raise at least $1,800, the team hopes to raise at least $10,000 for breast cancer research and treatment. To learn more about the team, see

• • •

Meet the old fat guys: The Avon Walk isn’t the only major breast cancer walk, and Barbie’s Rack Attack isn’t the only team participating with local connections.

Larry Meredith, a former Waterman resident, is planning to walk in Susan G. Komen’s three-day, 60-mile walk. Waterman resident Dave Stryker is joining him this year, and they hope to raise more than enough money to cover their entry donations at the fourth annual Old Fat Guy Idol.

The American Idol-style competition – in which the crowd “votes” with donations rather than phone calls – will start at 7 p.m. April 20 at Pub West, 100 E. Adams St. in Waterman. The competition pits high school friends Meredith, Chuck Wesenberg and Bob Strausberger against each other. Each performs three songs, and each has won the competition once in the past three years.

“I think the first year they were thinking it would be a one-time thing,” organizer Lisa Youngdahl said. “I think they’re willing to keep doing it as long as it’s the three of them.”

If they raise more money than the two walkers need to meet their minimum donation, they’ll funnel the money to other walkers, Youngdahl said.

If you can’t make it to the event, you can see videos from last year’s competition and vote via donation at

• • •

For full disclosure: I may have a bit of a bias when it comes to breast cancer walks. I’ve participated in four Breast Cancer 3-Day walks organized by Susan G. Komen for the Cure. I walked in Chicago in 2007, crewed in Chicago in 2008, walked in Washington, D.C., in October 2009, and crewed one last time in Chicago in 2010.

In 2009 and 2010, I was involved with a team called Ms. America Tatas, which adopted a Miss America pageant theme and tried to get walkers from as many states as possible. There were pink sashes and tiaras. I never made it all 60 miles, but I had so much fun, I took photographs of the large blisters on my feet.

• Jillian Duchnowski is the news editor at the Daily Chronicle. Reach her at 815-756-4841, ext. 2221, email or follow her on Twitter @JillianDuch.

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