What do you do when you have Stage IV metastatic breast cancer that has metastasized to your bones? When you can’t work anymore? When you can no longer do the things you loved to do like play sports? When you are in constant pain? When you have to endure the many side effects of the powerful drugs you are on to keep you alive?
Well, if you are Cindy Barka, you try to find the delicate balance of living your life to the fullest, crossing off as many things on your bucket list as possible, while being kind to yourself and taking care of your body, mind, and spirit with creativity and purpose.
All with Big Brother, the insurance company, keeping a watchful over you, ensuring you are not overstepping the boundaries of what they deem to be appropriate activities for someone who is dying. Or that you might be doing crafts, as a way to keep your sanity and inject some creativity, purpose, and God forbid a little fun in your life, and sell them for a few extra dollars. That if you made a few extra dollars, you just might be able to take that trip on your bucket list before you can no longer get out of bed.
Cindy walks this fine line every day, one step at a time. When I see her, she is always upbeat and positive yet down-to-earth and pragmatic. She speaks her truth. There are many things she would like to do, accomplish before leaving this world.
Cindy loves all animals and has a special place in her heart for the canine kind. She has lovingly fostered many dogs until good homes could be found for them. Last summer she applied to a dog rescue to adopt a four-legged friend. Cindy requested a senior dog (given her life expectancy, this seemed doable), a working breed, or even better a Rottweiler/Rottweiler mix.
She met with the owners of a potential dog, the rescue did a background check and a home visit, and called the vet that Cindy had frequented when her dogs, Kali and Nero, were alive. She was approved for the adoption of a 6 year old Rottweiler, but then the owners withdrew their approval citing her cancer as the reason. The rescue was apologetic but in the end, it is up to the owners when they are re-homing a dog. Cindy was extremely hurt and saddened.
Then the week before Christmas, the rescue called again. They had another dog that fit Cindy’s criteria and since her background check had already been done and if she was agreeable to it, they could refer the family directly to her. Cindy adopted Aslan on Christmas Eve. He is a 7 year old, 125 lbs Rottweiler baby. Cindy and Aslan are adjusting well to each other and building a trusting relationship.
Cindy’s other passion is creating things. She likes to paint and do all kinds of crafts. She creates new things from scratch, and she creates new things from old things. She can look at something that is worn and broken down and see its potential. She likes to take pieces that have been cast aside and give them a new life. In other words, she upcycles. She creates unique pieces that find their way to new homes.
Here is a sampling of her wonderfully creative and whimsical work:
Vintage suitcase chest of drawers
Whimsical planter chair
My husband and I recently delivered an old white dresser to Cindy to upcycle. If you read my blog post on Lighten Your Load, you know it had been in our basement for many years.
What’s not to love about this? Cindy gets to be inspired. She gets to use her imagination, her sense of whimsy and wonderment, and then gets the satisfaction of seeing the fruits of her labour make others happy. It keeps her busy and keeps her moving. It keeps her as active as her sore and aching bones will allow. It's a job well done.
Studies have shown (and no I don’t have any specific research studies on hand to quote) that people with cancer or any other illness who remain as active as possible do so much better during treatment and beyond. Their quality of life is improved. And when you think about it, that makes so much sense. If you lay in bed all day, you feel tired, you have no energy, and if you do this day in and day out, eventually your muscles atrophy and you get bed sores. So, staying active is good for you.
An added bonus, upcycling helps the environment. Items destined for the landfill are rescued and given a new life and a new home. Plus, other people get to enjoy Cindy’s creativity, appreciate her talent and sense of humour. In the end, we all benefit.
Here are a few projects Cindy has been working on.
Chest - before
Work in progress
Dresser - before
If anything tickles your fancy, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will put you in touch with Cindy. She is always looking for good homes for her creative endeavours.
Colleen Kanna is a breast cancer champion and creator of coKANna Designs, a line of bamboo knit, Canadian-made wellness wear for women. Five percent of online sales are donated to the Ottawa Integrative Cancer Centre in support of their Head Start Program for women newly diagnosed with breast cancer.