One of the most dramatic parts of my forthcoming book, “Changed by Chance…Champion by Choice”, details the year after Lauren’s death. That period is filled with jagged highs and lows.

In an effort to pull myself out of my grief, we take a trip to the Caribbean for my birthday. While there, I become pregnant with Bryan. That happiness comes to a screeching halt half way through my pregnancy when I am diagnosed with Breast Cancer. An inexperienced doctor advises me to terminate my pregnancy immediately “to save myself”. “You need to have a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy or you won’t survive this” he states brusquely.

Despite this mortal blow that threatens to destroy me, I muster the courage to question his rushed prognosis and to seek a second opinion. With the help of family and a physician friend, we decide on a more staid plan. I will have a mastectomy asap to see if the cancer has spread. Surgery will likely be followed by 6 months of chemo, starting in my 3rd trimester. It all sounds horrifying. I am sick with worry about the potential damage to my baby, whom I knew was a healthy boy. I thought about all of the special needs children that I had met while Lauren was at The Arc. “Would these procedures harm or deform my baby”? But, my Choice was to fight for my life and that of my unborn son Bryan.

I will never forget these words that haunted me for the ensuing 3 months – “Because of the chemo, he might be small and he might be slow”. “Chemo during pregnancy is rare and unpredictable”. All I could do was pray and hope for the best.

In labor, I barely noticed the pain. I was too preoccupied worrying what the emerging baby would look like after this trauma. Too afraid to look, I asked the delivery nurse if he looked “normal”. “He’s perfect”, she assured me. But for many years, I was paranoid about our health and his development. I needn’t have worried…

Fast forward to now, 21 years later. Bryan is about to graduate with honors from University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Biology. He has been a varsity Crew athlete. He is an athletic 6’2”.

I am also proud to announce that he has just been accepted to University of VA. Grad school for a 5 year Masters/ PhD program in Neuroscience – on full scholarship! Yes, you can bet that we are all thrilled!

There isn’t a day that goes by that I am not thankful for my choice made so long ago.

And so, with fortitude and fate, we’ve proven them wrong- he isn’t small and he isn’t slow.

Bryan Barker at UVA  Changed by Chance, Champion by Choice

Bryan leads us on a tour of the historic University of Virginia