The Transylvania Times -

Teen CroniclesHer Journy With Cancer


Kati Zajac (left), Rhiannon Barnes and Allie Barnes show their shaved heads as loyalty to one another.(Courtesy photo)

Rhiannon Barnes is a second year team captain for the Brevard High School team with the Relay For Life of Transylvania County. Barnes became involved with Relay For Life, the American Cancer Society's signature fundraising event, after her diagnosis with cancer in 2006. Her story of survivorship, which follows below, is a symbol of hope to others on their cancer journey.

My journey through cancer has been, to say the least, an interesting one. No, it was not easy or pain free, but through that difficult time in my life, I have changed and grown. Without the support of my family and my best friend Kati, I think my experience would have been a nightmare.

It all started in August of 2006. I was feeling weak, irritated, depressed and I kept losing weight. I even blacked out numerous times; hitting my head once on the floor so hard it left a big bruise on my face. I went to the doctor numerous times and each time it was a different diagnosis, such as pleurisy and gastroenteritis. They loaded me up on antibiotics, but none of it seemed to help. I kept on getting worse. I couldn't even walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded. One day in chemistry I was playing with my necklace and felt lumps along my collarbone. I knew it was my lymph nodes and at that moment, my life stood still. I knew I had cancer.

I went to the doctor that afternoon and he ordered a chest x-ray. I was put up in Transylvania Community Hospital that night and the next thing I knew I was rushed up to Mission Hospital in an ambulance to undergo heart surgery to drain four cups of fluid from around my heart sack. I was told later I was on the brink of a heart attack.

I don't remember going into surgery, but I do remember having another surgery to biopsy my lymph nodes in my neck. My hematology oncology doctor told me that she was pretty sure it was cancerous. When I heard that, for some reason I wasn't scared, or sad. I don't know why I didn't start crying or throwing my pillow across the room yelling at God "Why me"?

Being told I have a potentially fatal disease and trying to win the fight made me humble and thankful that it wasn't anything worse. You realize that it is your life and you and only you can decide how your ending will be and how you deal with the challenges that face you.

While recovering from my heart surgery in ICU, I was informed that I had stage two Hodgkin's Lymphoma in my neck and chest. Before starting chemotherapy, my heart had to be totally clear of fluid. I had tubes in my heart for three weeks. Those days were mostly a blur because I was so sick and weak. I do remember my family driving and flying in just to see me. That really made me strong. In my fourth week in ICU, I underwent my first round of chemotherapy.

The hardest day throughout my whole cancer experience was the day my hair fell out so much I decided to shave it. My mom shaved my hair first, then my sister's, then my best friend's head. They wanted to do that for me even though I insisted they not, but they did it anyway and to this day I am still awed by their courage. They had to face high school the next day and luckily they were admired; not made fun of.

That night looking back into the mirror, I saw myself as a cancer patient. I was gaunt, sickly and pale, and I was bald. Not having hair made it real. I still didn't cry because I had to be strong for my family.

Throughout the months of hospital visits, tests, days in the clinic, four blood transfusions, daily shots and about 20 prescriptions, I finished my treatment and got exempted from radiation just in time for my little sister to be born and to celebrate my seventeenth birthday.

When people ask me "How did you deal with it?" I respond by saying that I was so lucky. Having cancer was very, very difficult, but there are so many worse off than me that I can't complain. I am blessed because I have such a strong family. Having cancer has made me a different person in a positive way. I'm more outgoing and I don't worry much about the small things. I try to make each moment count.

I would like to finish with a quote from an anonymous author that inspired me, and I hope it will inspire you. "Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible and achieves the impossible."

While undergoing intensive chemotherapy, I would watch the poison seep into my veins, hoping with all my heart that this would cure me and I would survive. If I had nothing to look forward to in my life, would I be able to hope for the best?

As the days passed and I got worse, I would look at my family and friends and I could see the hopefulness in their eyes as I went in for tests. Every time the tests came back clear, a new ray of hope would bring peace to my mind and gave me the courage to face another round of chemotherapy.

Hope does see the invisible because I never knew what tomorrow was going to bring. Hope does feel the intangible because I felt a power in my soul to beat this cancer and to live. Hope does achieve the impossible because I am an eighteen-year-old cancer survivor who has faced more challenges and aced them then some people face in a lifetime. Hope is the soul's strength to live each day with courage.

Kati Zajac and Rhiannon Barnes pose for the camera during this year's prom.

Relay For Life of Transylvania County will be May 16, at the Transylvania County Parks and Recreation Center on Ecusta Road. Cancer survivors can join Barnes in the Survivor Victory Lap at 6 p.m. You can make a donation in support of Barnes and the Brevard High School Relay For Life Team, by mailing a check to the American Cancer Society, 120 Executive Park, Bldg. 1, Asheville, NC 28801 or online at

For more information on cancer, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-ACS-2345, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or visit

The American Cancer Society is the nationwide community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by preventing cancer, saving lives and diminishing suffering from cancer through research, education, advocacy and service.


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