Michigan Husband and Wife Beat Cancer With Faith, Love, and Proton Therapy

Author: Leslie Toldo

A devastating blow, capable of shattering couples who have spent decades together, struck Bob and Brenda Barlow just four years into their marriage. 

Their battle began with a simple reminder from Brenda's doctor to schedule a routine mammogram.

"I wasn't going to go have the mammogram because I am like, 'I am busy; I have life to do.' Then something told me to go anyway because you never know.  So, I went."

Then came the news that shook Brenda and Bob to the core.  "To find out Brenda had breast cancer scared me," Bob said.  "She didn’t know it, not until now, but I cried."

Brenda was determined to beat breast cancer, "I'm the kind of person who is a fighter.  I just said, 'I am a prayer warrior; I pray a lot.' I knew God wasn't ready for me yet."

Meeting radiation oncologist Dr. Christian Hyde at the Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint fueled Brenda's fighting spirit.  Dr. Hyde told Brenda he could treat her left-sided breast cancer with proton therapy, which has a much lower risk of damage to her heart and surrounding tissue than conventional radiation.

"Fortunately, we can stop the proton beam where we need it to and avoid healthy tissue and organs- like the heart," Dr. Hyde said.  "This is important because heart damage from radiation can increase the risk for heart attacks and other heart conditions later."

"I did research on it, and I did the comparison of the two," Brenda said, "I'm like, 'yes, this would be better for me.'"

Just weeks before Brenda's treatments started, fate dealt the couple another diagnosis.  Bob, who was already battling stomach cancer and leukemia, now had prostate cancer, "I had to put my other treatment on hold until the prostate cancer was taken care of," Bob said.

Once again, the couple chose to get care at the Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint, this time under Dr. Hesham Gayar's care.  Gayar, the medical director of McLaren's Proton Therapy Center, part of the Karmanos Cancer Network, recommended the treatment for Bob as well.  As fate would have it, the couple ultimately went through the treatments at the same time.

"I went through the whole program, and the people there treated you like a person, not a number," Bob said.  "They were very concerned that I was okay.  When they found out that I was on hold for my other treatments, they worked to get me done."

"Mr. Barlow did wonderfully," Dr. Gayar said.  "He went through proton treatment with minimal, if any, side effects, like many other prostate cancer patients that we have treated since we opened the center in December 2018," said Dr. Gayar.

Brenda's treatment was a success, too.  Bob and Brenda said the love and support they gave one another helped them pull through- that and faith.

"We believe in miracles," Brenda said.  "I accept this as a miracle from God."

Life-or-death battles can often tear couples apart, but this experience brought Bob and Brenda even closer together.  Never once did either of them consider giving up on themselves or each other.

"There's no way I would walk away from her because she was sick," Bob said.  "When one is sick, the other one needs to be there to give emotional and physical support and let them know that you are there for them 24/7."

Now the Barlows plan to face whatever life throws at them in the future side-by-side, with love and faith.

To see if Proton Therapy might be a treatment option for you or a loved one, visit Karmanos.org/protontherapy