Wendy Barnes has beaten breast cancer – twice.
Earlier this year she celebrated 10 years since her first diagnosis and five years since the second. This vibrant Sunshine Coast woman has plenty of advice for people who are navigating their own cancer journey and it is all about having a “glass half full” attitude.
Watch the interview on the video above, or you can read the full transcript below.
Roxanne – Alright, welcome back everyone. My name’s Roxanne McCarty-O’kane and you’ve joined us for another episode of The Phoenix Phenomenon where I have the absolute privilege of having a chat with some incredible people in our community, who have gone through their own hard times, their own battles and they’ve come out the other end fighting for and inspiring others along the way. So, today I have with me Wendy Barnes, who is a incredible spark, she’s a vivacious and really lovely lady, who I came across when looking at the Pinktober story for my Weekly Preview this year. We weren’t able to tell Wendy’s story at the time, and I thought, this is such a waste, we’ve gotta get her story out there as much as we can. So, thank you so much Wendy for joining us today. So Wendy is a two time breast cancer survivor. So, she was first diagnosed in 2008 and again in 2013. So, we’d love to share a little bit more about Wendy’s journey and the thing that I really love about Wendy is that she is so, I guess her mind set is really positive and she’s always been looking at the upside of everything. So, there’s really a lot that we can learn from Wendy’s journey. So, thank you again Wendy for joining us.
Wendy – Well thank you Roxanne, yeah. It’s been amazing, like as you said, got diagnosed in 2008 when I shifted up here to the sunny coast, to Mooloolaba with my husband and three kids, And six months after I got diagnosed with breast cancer. So, it was a huge shock. I was actually training to do the Mooloolaba Tri, so, it was yeah, a big shock. So, I went in and had the lumpectomy, and chemo and radiation and three of my lymph nodes were positive, so I had to go back in and have surgery. And we got through that. I also, that was in 2008. 2012 I did the Rio Tinto bike ride, that was from Brisbane to Wivenhoe and back, 130k’s one way, slept the night. And I raised 10 1/2 thousand dollars for breast cancer research.
Roxanne – That’s incredible
Wendy – So, that was a great… Yeah that was a great mind set for me to get back on my bike and doing exercise. That was a key thing. So, in 2013, was coming up to my five year, and I went on my own ’cause I said to my husband, I have an ink’s it’s all good. And got diagnosed again. So we were absolutely gutted. So, I went straight in and had a double mastectomy, and it was a new cancer again. And both my times were triple negative. So, I went in stage three, that’s a cancer name. So, I went in and had the double mastectomy and had chemo again, which that was a very hard moment, going through that the second time, ’cause you knew what to expect. But, I was one of the lucky ladies. I had support, I had amazing family, always said there was worse people off than me, and there was, and there is. So, I felt grateful and moved on. And now I’ve just done the next five years. So, I’ve achieved my 10 year and five year, and we had a massive party. It’s amazing, like you said the mindset is so important. You know, one day at a time and always look forward and I see other ladies and I always go, I’m gonna get there and believe in yourself, and be strong, and it’s about having amazing people around you, that’s a husband, and kids, and family and friends. And got rid of negative people, not having negative people around you that just bring you down. Gotta have positive, happy people. So, yeah, been an amazing journey though.
Roxanne – It has, it really has So, yeah, take me back to your first diagnosis, 2008, like you mentioned you had recently just moved up to the Sunshine Coast. How did you cope with not having that support network close by and
Wendy – Yeah Yeah that was hard, yeah ’cause our kids were only, our girls, my daughters were, Haley, she was only 15 and Taylor was 13, and Riley was only seven. So we’d only just shifted up and getting them into the schools, none of us had been to the doctors. We were all sporty people, so we got into the netball, and football and tennis. So that was good. My sisters and my familys come up when they, when we needed ’em, they were always there, they were only a phone call away, and a flight away.
Wendy – That’s lovely
Roxanne – Which was beautiful, yeah But we made a lot of friends to start with so that was great and the schools were great, in Bloomhill, they were amazing. And the best thing is though, the hospital was only five minutes away, and all my treatment, whereas, if I was in south Australia, it would have to be a two hour drive. So, we looked at that, yeah as a positive way, and bonding was good, kids, yeah it was great, a great support. And Bloomhill, like I said, Bloomhill was amazing. I still go up there now, been there for 10 years, still drop in and see them, and very supportive and always tried to promote that, and let people know about Bloomhill.
Wendy – Yeah, absolutely, and in what ways have they helped? I mean it’s much more than just a counseling and assistance service really, isn’t it up there? It’s very holistic.
Roxanne – Yeah, oh very very much so, and they actually supported me, and I went on a retreat 10 years ago up to Maleny, I was still going through chemo, met amazing eight other ladies and a male. Sadly, a lot of them have passed away, there’s only four of us left out of, sorry, there was 12 of us. And then, Bloomhill was always a support place for if things would taffy on you, I could just out there, it was a safe haven, cup of tea to wind down and also, there was a lot of times where you could go up and have massages, reflexology. Yeah, a lot of stuff, and even once a month, I used to have talks with a lot of other people going through chemo and I remember my first talk out there was Raelene Boyle, so she was amazing. Yeah, so they do a lot of other stuff as well as counseling and supporting and helping you out.
Roxanne – Absolutely, and I really would like to talk mindset with you, because I know both fitness and mindset have played a big role for you personally when going through your journey. But I wanted to ask, have you always kind of naturally been a really glass half full kind of person, or did going through this actually, I guess, heighten that in you?
Wendy – A bit of both, I’ve always been positive, give it a go, out there person. I’ve always believed in myself, and that’s a big T, and loving yourself, you know love yourself, you gotta be true to yourself. So, yeah I’ve always been out there being always sporty and wanting to have a go, but having the cancer, I believe’s, made me a better person too. But it’s also supported my morals and supported me in what I’ve believed in. And I’ve just, I would say, I think I’ve stepped it up to that next level, and just was true to myself. A lot of meditation, a lot of blocking stuff out and just concentrating on, and you do, you’ve gotta be really, you’ve gotta concentrate on yourself, you’ve gotta be very, sometimes you just gotta think of yourself for so long. Which I believed I did, to get better. But also to know when to ask for help. That was a big hard thing for me, ’cause I always did a lot on my own, did it myself, but asking for help when you needed it, and tune in to your body, you’ve gotta listen to your own body. And, I loved my swimming. I swim every day, that’s why I’m like this. I’ve still got my hat on, I’ve been working and I didn’t get to change. But that’s okay, it’s me, I’m easy going. But it’s, yeah, it’s amazing, and I did a lot, like I said a lot of meditation, and a lot of, the second time, a lot of I do on my own, Kabocha tea, I juice the first two days of every month. Sort of, and the fasting and watch what you eat, you know, no sugars and going off and listen to your body, getting away when you needed to be. Yeah, and be grateful every morning I wake up and say I’m so grateful and look where I live, and I get up and I jump on my push bike and I ride down to Mooloolaba beach there and I’d join the Mooloolaba beach bumbs , and I swim 1.5K from the Mooloolaba surf club tide, down to the spit and back. Yeah, which is, I love it, the ocean’s amazing. It’s so peaceful and so soothing and yeah I love the water, the ocean. It’s a mentally and physically a soothing thing for me.
Roxanne – Absolutely, and how big of a role do you think that all played with your recovery and getting through your cancer battle?
Wendy – Yeah that was a big role I believe. Even though I’ve only been doing this for two years, the swimming every day, but I just feel like I’ve, you know two years after, I’ve got out on a push bike and just getting out in nature, and trying to get back to doing what you used to do. And I know that it’s hard, but just the exercising and getting gout in the air and the nature and trying to get back to doing what you used to do is, it’s a big thing for some, but, yeah, it’s just trying to get back to the norm, is a big thing. I look forward to the swimming, the bike riding, the walking and getting out and about. Which and I’m so lucky, I have an amazing husband. I have that support, that’s been a huge, huge plus. And my family and my kids, they’ve all supported me in so many ways.
Roxanne – Absolutely, and like I said, talking about the kids, how is that they were able to cope with everything that you were going through as well? You know that would’ve taken a bit of a toll on them, not only the first time, but the second time as well. Like they would have been a little bit older, but it’s still just as hard.
Wendy – Yes it was, it was very hard on especially the girls, you know they were 16 and Haley was 21, so she never really had a 16th, or an 18th or a 21st. I was going through chemo for her 21st, but yeah, they found it hard, but the best thing I believe and that I felt that was being true to them. I never kept anything from them. We told them everything from the word go, and it was funny, when I first had my double mastectomy, I remember I’d come home and Riley had a school formal. I remember putting on my, I had some prosthesis and I put them on, and I come out with the dress on, and he says oh my God mom, what are you doing, what are you wearing them for? You know and from then, I never wore a bra or prosthesis, I’ll be flat the whole time, and I love it and I’m staying like that. I’m not worrying about having a reconstruction.
Roxanne – I didn’t realize your son had that thought, that’s really beautiful.
Wendy – Yeah, yeah, I’ll never forget that. And he said, oh my God mom what are you wearing them for, what are you doing that. I’ve never worn them since. I’ve given all my stuff away. I gave it all to Bloomhill, and yeah I’m not even thinking of having a reconstruction. Even a lot of people said for my 50th, having a reconstruction for your 50th. And I went, no, I want to walk the Great Wall of China, for my 50th, so that’s what we did, the whole family, just the five of us. So, but yeah, they were just, I mean kids adapt. They’re incredible, just be true to them and they go a long with it.
Roxanne – Yeah, yeah
Wendy – I had to
Roxanne – Yeah that’s it, but it’s beautiful that they’ve been there for you as well and so supportive which is so lovely and your husband too of course.
Wendy – Of course, yeah, he’s amazing. ‘Cause I know a lot of ladies do have a lot of hard times. And husbands sometimes don’t cope, but he was very supportive. He often says now, he was actually dreading coming in to see me after I had the operation, had the double mastectomy, and he’d come in, and I’m sitting there, and they took the bandages off. The first thing I did is pulled the sheets up and showed him and he said oh, and he thought, oh and when he seen it, he went, oh, that’s not so bad, and it was great. So, yeah, no, he’s very supportive. And so are my friends, they all know me.
Roxanne – Absolutely, and I understand you do have, you’ve still got a set of boobs in your house though don’t you really, you’re beautiful sculpture.
Wendy – Oh I have Roxanne, that’s amazing. I’m so glad I done that. So the five years ago, before I had the double mastectomy, I’d actually organized a party for my south Australian friends to come up the week before. So they were all devastated when I told them, but I still wanted them to come up. So, they came up, I said right, let’s celebrate. So we all had a champagne and chicken platter, and I had a bucket of plaster of paris, so I made them all dip their hand into the plaster of paris and put it on me. And we dried it, so I had that mold for five years. So, this year I got it out and I took it up to an amazing lady, Char, her name is. There’s a glass sculpture out the bedroom and she made my glass, my glass mold, and I wanted her to put the blue through it with the water and bubbles and the waves. I could actually show you.
Roxanne – Yeah that would be incredible, Yeah
Wendy – Which would be amazing
Roxanne – Yeah
Wendy – And so, I had that and celebrated that with my party. I’m hoping you can see it. I don’t know if you can…
Roxanne – Ah, yep, yep there it is coming up, that’s gorgeous isn’t it.
Wendy – Can you see that?
Roxanne – It’s stunning.
Wendy – So that’s now my boobs, that’s my reconstruction.
Roxanne – So, was that created specifically for your five and 10 years, year this year, or…?
Wendy – Yes, yep so in August I had my 10 year and five year party and had probably about 80 people come up. I had 30 come up from south Australia and the rest were my friends from here. And we had a W party, so I, being Wendy. So we had lots of people from like, Where’s Wally, witches and warriors and What It’s. So that’s when I had it there and showed everyone that and everyone loved it. So the sculpture’s very meaningful and precious for me.
Roxanne – Yeah, absolutely, that’s beautiful. And a good talking point I’d say to I imagine when people come to visit.
Wendy – Yes, yes exactly. It’s beautiful
Roxanne – Excellent, that’s great. And I just wanted to ask you if you had any advice for any women of any age, who may have, they might be going through their own breast cancer journey at the moment. What are some of the, I guess, the pearls of wisdom that you’ve gathered along your own path that you would like to share with those who might be listening.
Wendy – Yeah, just don’t think so far ahead. Just take one day at a time. Small steps, listen to your body, be true to yourself, sometimes there’s ways that you might have to change and you don’t want to, but you might have to. Get rid of negative people. Can you still see me?
Roxanne – Oh you’re back again, I was gonna wait for you to finish your sentence.
Wendy – Be positive, meditate, yeah like I said, get rid of negative people, be true to yourself and hang around supportive people. Bit of exercise, it’s amazing though, sometimes I think, I can’t believe that’s so far, you know, that’s so far gone, that’s long ago, I forget you know. And just doing peacefully things and do beautiful family stuff. And believe in yourself, that’s another thing. Back yourself up, love yourself. No, no matter you’re gonna have so many changes in your body, you’ll put on weight, you’ll go gray, you’ll get wrinkles, stuff like that but I love it because that’s part of being old and growing and being alive. A lot of people judge themselves and worry about their weight and their hair and their wrinkles. I know I’m a bit different, I think, I love it because I know I’m a year older, I’m getting older, I’m alive and I can say I’ve got that. There’s so many that can’t say that.
Roxanne – Yeah, that’s beautiful, I love that. More people need to be like that. Hey we do get hung up on tiny little things that don’t really matter in the big scheme of life.
Wendy – No, I don’t, a lot of it, it’s all materialistic stuff Roxy. I don’t care what other people got, just rock up, just be yourself.
Roxanne – That’s wonderful, and so you mentioned you recently were on the Great Wall of China with the family, so, what other adventures and things do you have lined up for 2019?
Wendy – Well I’ve actually just got back from Tassie. I went to Tasmania and walked the three capes for four days with my two daughters, and that was amazing. And then we hired an RV and traveled up the east coast. And I got to swim with Shane Gould.
Roxanne – Oh wow
Wendy – She was on the three cape walk, and I told her I was coming to push you know, and she said, I said would you like, let’s go for a swim sister? And she looked at me. So I said you get me a wet suit and a cap and goggles and I’ll come with you and we did, and the best time and we went and had breakfast together. So that was amazing. And next year, my husband and I, we’re actually traveling to South America and we’re going to do the Machu Picchu and doing the Inca Trail.
Roxanne – Oh wow
Wendy – So it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. So, we’ll be away for five weeks around South America and Mexico.
Roxanne – Uh, sounds like a dream, that’s awesome.
Wendy – Yeah, yeah, it’s something we’ve always wanted to do. So yeah, which is a beautiful challenge. So, and that’s it really. I don’t haven’t got anything planned. Well my husband and I and our kids and Haley’s boyfriend, Liam, we’ll be going back to south Australia next week for a week for Christmas. But otherwise, we haven’t got anything else planned.
Roxanne – Excellent, but I know you have also, you are quite active in the community as a I guess an advocate or person who raises awareness about breast cancer prevention or early detection. So I wanted to sort of tap into your key message that you’d like to get out there to people who are listening, you know, obviously getting checked taking notice of changes in your body, anything else that you would like to get out there for them?
Wendy – Just early detection is so, so crucial. ‘Cause any little difference of not feeling well or you feel of a little lump or see some spots or, yeah just get straight to the doctors. Early detection is so important and just watch yourself. Everyone, I mean we all know our bodies, if there’s any little thing, don’t, you know… I also help out with the Cancer Council Connect, so I help out on the phone line with that which is so important. Just by talking to other ladies is amazing, you know and don’t be, try not to bottle it all up in yourself. There’s always so many people out there to talk to. So I feel I’m really pleased I can help others, that’s my aim from now on is to help others and listen to their stories or be there for questions that they want to ask. ‘Cause I didn’t have anyone out here. So, it’s taken me nine years to get here and to get there to help others. You know I had to be ready myself. So now I’m there and if I can help others and support them and listen to them and give them some advice.
Roxanne – Absolutely, and how does it feel to be able to do that for other people, to be able to pick up a phone when someone is in need and they need to connect with not just anyone, but someone who can actually empathize and they’ve been through what they’re going through?
Wendy – It’s amazing, it’s so rewarding Roxy. I feel so in awe of myself, to think, oh my God, I feel very honored and I feel it’s amazing to believe they’re asking me, ’cause I know 10 years ago, I used to look at other ladies in my same situation and they’d say they’ve done their 10 years and I would say, oh my God, I’m gonna get there, you know. Another thing is really good, is what I used to do is set myself goals. I’d always set myself goals and have a vision board, ’cause I’ve always had Machu Picchu on my vision board that’s been there for probably 20 years.
Roxanne – Oh wow.
Wendy – Setting vision boards and setting yourself goals, and you know a one year, a three year and a five year plan. But yeah, no it’s feels very honored when they ask me to help out and talk to other ladies that are going through the same situation or wanting to know about making a decision of having a double mastectomy. Or how have I coped without having a reconstruction. Yeah I know it’s amazing.
Roxanne – ‘Cause that’s a very personal thing too isn’t it? I mean some even they would want to go for the reconstruction straight away and others may be a bit unsure. So, yeah it would be great having a guidance I guess to discuss all the options really.
Wendy – Yes, yeah and you have to get your head around it, it’s a big thing. But yeah, it’s my best decision I’ve made and I won’t even worry about having that reconstruction. I love that I can wear low dresses and I can go for a run, I don’t have to worry about putting a bra on.
Roxanne – That’s awesome, okay and so yeah, I just wanted to see if there’s anything else you wanted to put out there for our readers. Obviously yes, mindsets, exercising, keeping, starting meditation if you’ve never started it before, I think giving yourself that time to reconnect with yourself. It would be so much noise going on I imagine in your mind at a time like that.
Wendy – Yeah, yeah also to if they can get away on a nice retreat. I went on an amazing retreat with my twin sister with me to Bali for 10 days, that was amazing. There’s a lot, you don’t have to go overseas, there’s a few here in Queensland. So that’s another good key to look forward to.
Roxanne – Excellent, that’s great. Well thank you so, so much Wendy for taking the time to have a chat to us today.
Wendy – Always
Roxanne – Yeah Help some listeners out there to get a touch of inspiration and to help them along in their journey. So, thank you.
Wendy – Yeah I hope so, yeah thank you love. Thanks and you have a lovely Christmas and a happy and healthy new year.
Roxanne – Yes, you too, lovely lady, and I will catch you again soon.
Wendy – Yeah, no always love.
Roxanne – Thank you
Wendy – Okay, bye, bye