During a recent conversation with a female Sr Vice President of my company, RBC Wealth Management, she learned a great deal more than she expected about my life experiences. She was taken aback when I share with her my past because her perception of me was that I have had nothing but success for most of my adult life. She was very surprised with the personal story that I shared with her about my struggles. It was a wake up call of sorts to her because what she perceived about me initially was not the entire story. This is often the case with so many people out there in the world. When you look at a person superficially, you have no idea what has transpired in their lives. It was because of this and because October is National Breast Cancer month that my employer wanted to feature my story in our internal communications newsletter that would be read by thousands of people both here in the US and Canada. I hope that my story and my blog will help or inspire someone this month.

Thank you to RBC for allowing me to share the internal article:

(10/9/13) With October recognized as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we are highlighting a story about how a RBC Wealth Management-U.S. employee turned personal adversity into an opportunity to support a good cause. Learn how Financial Advisor Liz Barker survived personal tragedy and used her experience to pursue a new avocation.

Elizabeth Barker EBC Wealth ManagementFinding Inspiration in Adversity

Many people who have experienced adversity lose sight of the positives in life; RBC financial advisor Liz Barker of Conshohocken, PA, is not one of those people.

From 1986 to 1991, Liz experienced an unrelenting roller coaster ride for a five-year period that was wracked with painful physical, emotional and spiritual misfortunes. It was all so unexpected because Liz had planned her future so carefully, just as she counsels her clients.

Her plans fell by the wayside though the moment that her first child, Lauren, was born. Unexpectedly, Lauren was born with Down syndrome and a severe heart defect. A myriad of health issues followed her birth day surgery. After many months of love and care, Lauren survived and thrived. She would bring Liz and her family great joy for three years. Sadly, after a second surgery, Lauren died tragically from a hospital acquired infection. This was also just three months after her baby brother James was born. The ensuing year was a very difficult one for Liz emotionally.

A year after Lauren’s death, Liz was pregnant again. She knew that she was carrying a healthy baby boy. Her happiness again came to a screeching halt when Liz found out she had breast cancer five-and-a-half months into her pregnancy. She was advised to abort her healthy baby “to save herself.” With the help of more experienced oncology doctors, Liz chose an alternate plan. She would have the mastectomy and undergo chemotherapy while pregnant. She was warned that her son “might be small and might be slow.” Miraculously, this prediction did not materialize and Liz’s luck finally returned.

From personal hardship to charity for others

To Liz, those five stressful years changed the paradigm about her being and her personal journey. They serve as a reminder that life can be very difficult, but it is important to keep moving forward.
Liz said: “Those years made me realize how tough life can be, even to those that plan. It is a reminder to keep moving forward despite what is thrown at you.”

Liz’s experiences and triumphs put her in a unique position to share her past and to invite others to do the same. To raise awareness for breast cancer, Liz volunteers at “Living Beyond Breast Cancer,” a foundation that empowers women to live quality lives post-cancer.

In addition, Liz has continuously supported The Arc, a national organization that is dedicated to helping individuals with disabilities. Recently, to honor what would have been Lauren’s 25th birthday, Liz threw a “Fun(d)raiser” to benefit The Arc. The event was overwhelmingly successful, raising over $10,000 for the foundation.

“That event gave me a sense of euphoria and renewal. It helped me remember how lucky I am to be here and to have the loving support of family and friends,” said Liz. “I knew that because I had survived my darkest hours, I needed to show other people that they could, too.”

From advocate to author

After The Arc event, Liz was so inspired that she decided to dust off an old dream of hers – to write a book about that five-year period and how she not only survived, but thrived. With the help of her yoga practice, she penned her first manuscript “Changed by Chance, Champion by Choice” in just one year.

“The book is a perfect summary of my life, of my five-year hardship, of what it takes to survive such a tumultuous time and what you can learn from adversity,” said Liz.
In addition to the book, Liz writes a humorous blog about her experiences.

Now, more than 20 years removed from her period of adversity, Liz looks back on those dark days as defining moments in her life. She will always remember what happened in the past but more importantly, she is thankful for the present and optimistic about her future. She has managed to keep her health, her family and her career intact.

“I learned a lot of life lessons and insights from those five years,” said Liz. “Even when things are bad it’s important to realize that there’s still a lot of good in this world, and there always will be.”
Liz sums up her experience in one of her favorite quotes: “Life is 10 percent what you make it, 90 percent how you take it.” Sage advice.