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When Life Gave Liz Some Lemons

She Made Lemonade


Liz Barker is a seasoned financial advisor from Philadelphia, who is blessed to be with the three loves of her life: James, her husband of 30 years, and two sons, James and Bryan.


Up until the age of 29, Liz had what she described as an uneventful life. She was married, had a career, a nice home, and was pregnant with her first child, a girl named Lauren.


“But the day my daughter was born, April 16, 1986—from that day forward, life changed,” she says.


Lauren was born with Down syndrome and a severe heart defect that required immediate surgery after she was born. Liz was thrown into a whirlwind of emotions and preoccupations. Baby Lauren survived the surgery, and lived a healthy three more years, up until complications arose from her second surgery. She passed away a couple months after Liz’s second child, James, was born.


“I suffered melancholy for over a year” she says.


It took her a long time to work through the grief, but a year after Lauren’s passing, at age 34, Liz was pregnant with Bryan and looking forward to meeting him.


One evening, as she was getting ready for a party, Liz noticed her new bra was bothering her. When she got home, she found a lump in her breast.


She didn’t think it would be anything since she was young, and she had no family history. So she went to the gynecologist who then referred her for an ultrasound. They then recommended that the lump be removed.


“We went to the doctor’s office a few days later to discuss the biopsy results and he dropped the C bomb on me,” she says. The local surgeon blurted out, “Mrs. Barker, you need to take immediate action to save yourself”.  “You need to have a late term abortion, have a mastectomy, and undergo a chemotherapy regiment for at least 6 months.”


Liz couldn’t think of the possibility of losing her baby boy, whom she knew was healthy, and the pain of aborting him just 1 year after losing Lauren.  With the help of a physician family friend, she was able to talk to experts who have, in the past, treated pregnant women with breast cancer. There could be side effects, but Liz was optimistic and determined to keep her baby. She was told that “he might be slow, or he might be small”, but Liz didn’t care.


With this new medical direction, she underwent a mastectomy at 5 ½ months and then began chemotherapy in her 3rd trimester.  The happy ending is that Bryan was born healthy at 8 lbs.  That’s not small.


“He just celebrated his 22nd birthday,” she says proudly of her son. “He’s an honor student at U of Penn, and a varsity athlete.”  “So much for the small and slow prediction”.  “I thank God every day for him and for the friend who re-directed us to save Bryan’s life”.


Though there were plenty of lemons life had served her, Liz is standing today, a 21-year survivor of breast cancer, and healthy as ever.


“I feel really fortunate to be alive at 55,” she says. “Awful things happen to good people, and you just need to keep your head up and keep going.”  “When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade”!


Liz also wants to share that she has recently “dusted off “a long time dream of hers, to write her non-fiction book about her many triumphs over tragedy.  She has just completed her manuscript for “Changed by Chance…Champion by Choice”, having collaborated with professional writer, Tim Vandehey. They are now seeking a literary agent and publisher for her book.


Please visit Liz’s blog at to learn more about her incredible journey.


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