After earning her bachelor’s degree from the Art Institutes of Pittsburgh, Barbara McCreary had plans to start a career in art and animation.
But then cancer changed her plans.
In the span of five years, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, diabetes, a kidney tumor, colon cancer and multiple myeloma. Despite so many health challenges, she stays upbeat with support from her family, her care team, her faith, and her passion.
“Drawing helps me through it. Family support is very good,” she says. “It's very high right now and it brought me to know the love of family and sisters and brothers because you can get away from that through the trials of life and growing up with each other.”
With her breast cancer diagnosis in 2007, she received chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and Herceptin treatments at Wilmot Cancer Center. She also had a hysterectomy. Not long after completing treatments for breast cancer, she learned she had diabetes. She was in a diabetic coma for a few days.
But if it weren’t for the diabetes, she says doctors may not have found her multiple myeloma when they did. She learned she had the disease the day before her birthday, in April 2010. Around the same time, she had a tumor removed from her kidney using robotic surgery. In 2012, she underwent removal of a stage 1 colon cancer.
“I’ve been through quite a bit, I have, but there’s other people who have been through worse things than I have,” Barbara says. “The best thing that comes out of it is living day to day. That’s the best thing.”
Barbara’s oncologist at the time, Jainulabdeen J. Ifthikharuddin, M.B.B.S., — who is known around Wilmot as Dr. Ifthi — recommended a stem cell transplant. She appreciated his educational approach to care – he taught her a lot, she says. As he moved toward retirement, she has shifted her care to Frank Passero, M.D.
“Dr. Ifthikharuddin is the man. If you want great educational healthcare, Dr. Ifthi is the doctor to see because I learned a lot about bloodwork and testing and taking care of myself,” she said. “Followed up with Dr. Passero, with new innovations to medicine. He sees a future.”
For her myeloma, she had a stem cell transplant in 2010 but her cancer returned and she needed to resume treatment in 2012. She has been on multiple different regimens since then. In 2018, she started on a combination of daratumumab, pomalidomide and dexamethasone. This treatment required that she come in for infusions twice a month, although now, she’s doing well on once a month infusions.
Coming to Wilmot Cancer Center for many years, she’s made countless friends, including nurses and volunteers.
“All the nurses are of a mind for life. They're of a mind that you’re going to live through it,” she says. “They're there to help you.”
Barbara had been working part-time at Sam’s Club, until they closed in Rochester in 2018. While she misses working, on one hand, she’s glad because she lives with intense fatigue from her treatment. Work took up the little amount of energy she had.
Now that she’s no longer working, she has time to get back to her passion: Drawing.
She loves creating characters and has started publishing them on her own website. She’s been working with a chef and is hoping to submit some of her work to a magazine soon.
“I am a survivor and my spirit survived it,” she says. “Cancer can touch our physical lives but it can’t touch your spirit. It’s immune from that and I have a great deal to look forward to in my work.”