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Cancer Survivor Heads to Washington D.C. to
Advocate for Cancer Research as Part of Effort to 'Give Back'

By Ioana Patringenaru | July 18, 2006

Family Portrait
Martha Barry's family portrait. Barry, then age 6, is third from the left, standing in front of her parents.

When asked why she advocates for cancer research, Martha Barry pulls out a small black-and-white family photograph. It shows Barry, then age 6, her 13 siblings, her mother and her father gathered around a piano, dressed in their Sunday’s best. Fast forward 44 years, and three of the people in the photograph, including Barry’s father, have succumbed to cancer. Another five, including Barry herself, survived a battle with the deadly disease.

Barry said she plans to take a copy of that family photograph to Washington, D.C. in September, when she and 10,000 other volunteers will lobby Congress to increase funding for cancer research.

“I think we can make such a difference, I think the government can make such a difference, I think UCSD researchers can make such a difference,” she said.

Martha BarryBarry, a support services coordinator in the Business and Financial Services department, will take part in Celebration on the Hill, a nationwide event organized by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. She works in the Office of Post Award Financial Services. During the two-day event, volunteers will meet with their Congressman and ask for increased federal funding for the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. They also will ask Congress to reauthorize and expand the CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. Barry and several others will meet with Democratic Congressman Bob Filner.

The American Cancer Society chose Barry to be one of its voices in Washington D.C. because she has a strong story to tell, said Selina Travers, a strategic director with the society’s state office. Barry also has volunteered for the society for several years, Travers said.

To hear Barry tell it, it’s all about giving back, a value that her family always has cherished, she said.

“You’ve got to give hope to keep hope,” she said.

Back in September 1999, hope seemed like a rare commodity in her life. She was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her mother, Gertrude Barry, died of old age that same month and Barry’s job as a temporary employee at UCSD was scheduled to end.

But then volunteers from the American Cancer Society and the Wellness Community, a now-defunct nonprofit organization, stepped in. Barry said she still keeps in touch with some of those who helped her seven years ago. At UCSD, Human Resources and Business and Financial Services bent over backwards to accommodate her during her illness, she added. Her boss at the time, Paula Doss, was very supportive, she said. Asked how she coped with her illness, Barry points to the three Fs: faith, family and friends.

A year after she was out of treatment, she became a volunteer for the American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery program. She recently chaired the program, which includes about 90 volunteers in all of San Diego County. As a volunteer, her job description includes helping patients find free wigs and free transportation to chemotherapy sessions.  She also steers them toward programs that can help with their physical and emotional state. She also listens a lot, she said.

“It’s been a privilege working with these people,” she said. “You get much more than you give.”

But Barry also said that she found it much easier to cope with her own illness than with the illness of others.

“When you’re the one who has it, you can fight,” she said. But when a loved one is sick, a feeling of helplessness creeps in. “You can only love and support them,” she said.

These feelings have been tested more than once in Barry’s life. Three of her sisters have battled breast cancer. Three of her brothers have fought prostate cancer. Her father, James Barry, succumbed to that illness in 1994. Then her brother Michael succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2002 after battling melanoma and prostate cancer. As a Vietnam veteran, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Barry said she plans to visit his grave during her Washington, D.C. trip. She also is dedicating her trip to her sister Diana, who died of lung cancer in April.

“I’ve just got to give back,” she said.

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