By Chris Maza
LONGMEADOW – Fighting her battle with cancer with a level of strength and positivity that has inspired friends and family, Liz Barton is now being lifted up by her community.
The LizStrong 5K run and 1-mile walk, slated for Nov. 2, will raise money and offer support to Barton in her 10-year battle with metastatic breast cancer. While helping to offset the long-term financial impacts of years of treatment is part of the goal, race organizer and friend Amy Higgins explained the event is especially important in letting Barton know the community is going to help her continue the fight.
“She’s been dealing this for 10 years and for the most part, she has looked and acted relatively ‘healthy.’ Even when the cancer kept recurring, she was able to put it in a box and set it on a shelf. She looked great; she looked healthy and the way she has been able to do that has been so inspiring,” said Higgins. “Last year, though, after setback after setback, we began to see that that resolve has started to diminish. That’s when we realized she needs a little boost, she needs a lift.”
A lift is exactly what she’s getting. As a Longmeadow High School alumna and active parent with the Longmeadow Baseball Association for which her two boys play, Barton’s story and spirit are well-known in the community and in turn, they have responded, Higgins explained. Friends are expected to fly in from as far away as California and Florida to take part and Barton is taking notice.
“It’s working. I went walking with her on Friday and she said for the first time in a while, she wanted to get out of bed,” Higgins said.
Barton was first diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in December 2008. In spite of a double mastectomy and chemotherapy, she experienced a recurrence and in October 2009, she underwent a second surgery and radiation.
In February 2013, she was diagnosed with SVC syndrome – a second recurrence with the cancer metastasized to her lung. After daily trips to Boston for radiation along with chemotherapy treatments for seven weeks that resulted in an allergy to chemotherapy drugs, temporary radiation damage to her esophagus and two blood transfusions, Barton experienced another recurrence just months later.
With chemotherapy off the table as an option, Barton attempted a trial of an immunotherapy drug, which she has been undergoing in Boston every three weeks for more than four years now. Even with that, she experienced her fourth recurrence just eight months later when doctors found the cancer had metastasized to her brain.
In September 2016, she was diagnosed with osteonecrosis, a side effect of years of chemotherapy that required the replacement of both hips. Shortly after her first hip replacement in December 2016, she also underwent surgery to fuse two discs after losing strength in her right arm.
In a letter she wrote on the LizStrong gofundme page, Barton said, “As a single mom, fighting a life-threatening disease, I have made a few attempts to return to work, but surviving my recurrences has always taken precedence. Obviously, the past five years have also been financially devastating. I try to be positive and keep a smile on my face, regardless of treatments, diagnoses or side effects. Throughout my years of aggressive, painful and debilitating treatment, I have worked hard to stay healthy, active and strong for myself and my two young boys.
“This is my 10th year of dealing with breast cancer and the havoc it was wreaked on my life. Amazingly to me, I am more determined than ever to do everything I can, not only to survive this recurrence, but I want to use every ounce of energy and resource I can find to try to kick breast cancer out of my body forever.”
The LizStrong 5K race and 1-mile walk is set to step off from the Community House at 8:30 a.m. Day-of check-in and registration begins at 7 a.m. Post-race festivities include refreshments and a bake sale as well as baseball-themed awards for race and division leaders – a nod to her passion for the sport and her love of watching her sons play.
The 5K is $35 while the walk is $20. A sponsorship option for $100 includes two race entries. Online registration is available through 8:15 a.m. on Nov. 2 by visiting https://runsignup.com/Race/MA/Longmeadow/LizStrong5k.