Portrait by Lebwait Girma taken in January 2012 for the Women of Strength issue
When we featured a cheerful portrait of Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize alongside his chic First Lady Kim Barrow in the Island Issue, I couldn’t wait to find out more. Introduced through Travel photographer Lebawit Girma, I was regrettably informed that she was diagnoised with Breast Cancer earlier that month. We exchanged emails and after expressing how much she loved Complexd I knew instantly that I wanted to make her the next Complexd Cover woman. Suitably, the issue was themed ‘Woman of Strength’. In the days and months that followed in preparation for the next issue, Mrs. Barrow displayed the type of strength I wished to express in the issue. When I deliberated about the cover, she sent me an email saying she wanted to show women the effects of cancer by not hiding behind a wig in her cover shot. I felt honoured when I found out she made that extra effort when all her strength was being drained by this life-threatening illness. Through Kim, I have seen first-hand how the power of love and support can fight off the deadliest disease. I am so happy to be publishing these portraits below because on her face is an ever-present glow and appreciation for life that she talks about in our latest interview. Enjoy reading.
Editor: Was recovery as hard as the diagnosis?
Kim: I took my recovery one day at a time. I did a total of six chemotherapy sessions and a mastectomy. I was scheduled for 30 fractions of radiations, but suffered heart failure after 15. I was in the intensive care unit for a week when the doctors finally agreed to terminate radiation. After resting for almost three months, I went for a second opinion on my heart condition at MD Anderson Cancer Centre, while also seeking the advice of a Radiologist. I completed 20 additional fractions of radiation on September 19th 2012. There really is no magic that can get you through the process – it’s about believing, having faith and always being positive.
Editor: How did you cope with being away from your family when you were undergoing treatment in Miami?
Kim: The hardest part of it was being away from my seven year old daughter, Salima. She was and continues to be my greatest source of strength. My husband Dean was very supportive and helped tremendously during that time. He spent a few days fighting the fight with me in Miami and I received so much support from family and friends. Some of them flew out to help me with daily task like cooking, cleaning and washing. I was never alone whether being accompanied on visits to the hospital or just somebody sitting quietly in the room with me. Not a day went by without my mum and siblings being there or giving me a call. I also met what I describe as ‘angels on earth’, who stood beside me as sentries along the way. They and all of my wonderful countrymen filled my heart with incredible joy and buoyed my spirit just when I needed it the most. I am changed forever. My appreciation for the true goodness of the human spirit knows no boundaries and my faith in God remains eternally true.
Editor: Did having heart failure set you back in your fight against Breast Cancer?
Kim: This whole experience is truly life changing; it has made me very aware of both the fragility and strength of the human being and the incredible flexibility and adaptability of the body, mind and soul. At first, I couldn’t believe this was happening to me – a young and healthy woman who worked hard, ate well and exercised daily. As a mother of a seven-year old child, it was especially hard. It forced me to recognise that cancer does not filter through its recipients and when it chooses you, you have to prepare for combat, lace up your boxing gloves and be ready for the fight. I have fought this enemy with everything I have!
Editor: You continued campaigning throughout your recovery, how did you manage it all?
Kim: I was happy that I was able to maintain my workload with the various charities that I administer in Belize. This was a wonderful distraction that took me away from my own troubles as I concentrated on helping others. Once again the incredibly positive power of giving upheld my spirit.
Editor: How does it feel to finally be home and what’s next?
Kim: I’m elated to be back home, especially for my daughter Salima. It’s been one year since my diagnosis and as difficult as it has been for me, can you imagine how difficult it has been for my little girl. I’m happy to be home with her and Dean and be more hands on with the various projects I’ve been spearheading. Right now I am focusing on two projects. The Inspiration Center, which will offer rehabilitative therapies to children with disabilities in Belize and the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at the Karl Huesner Memorial Hospital where we hope to treat children with cancer.
Editor: After everything you have been through, what advice would you give to a woman who has just been diagnosed and to women in general relating to Breast Cancer Awareness?
Kim: For my cancer warriors, who remain in battle with this dastardly foe, I say, try to remain positive and calm. Stress and negativity are cancer’s best friends. Focus on yourself and make sure you eat well, continue to exercise and remember to say your prayers. Be thankful for every small step you take towards recovery and don’t let the clouds that cover your sun-filled sky put a downer on your recuperation. They will eventually shift as time goes on.
Cancer does not have a brain, a heart, or a spirit. It doesn’t have the ability to plan or be cunning. It’s up to us and our doctors to strategise its demise. We must fight with our brain and also our heart and soul. I have my own personal battle plan and every day I attack cancer. Keep fighting, keep the faith and always remain hopeful!
For those who have won the battle and are cancer free, I applaud you because I know that you have been through hell and lived to tell the tale. I have a new perspective on life; it should not and cannot be taken for granted!
We must always revel in the small moments that make life worth living and lend a helping hand to those who are still in the midst of their battle. To the loved ones of women who lost their fight, I can only imagine how difficult it was for you to watch your mother, grandmother, sister, aunt or daughter go through this terrible ordeal. Please take care of your health, learn from the experience, grasp the importance of regular breast exams, mammograms, check-ups and become an advocate for others to do the same. Living a fruitful and healthy life is the best way to honour the memory of those who have gone before you.
Kim and Salima photographed by Olivera Rusu in Belize