Breast cancer survivor and advocate for early detection Wendy Barnes
Breast cancer survivor and advocate for early detection Wendy Barnes Patrick Woods

Wendy makes the most of her second chance after cancer

IF YOU saw Wendy Barnes entering the surf for a swim, you'd see a typical Sunshine Coaster, her tanned skin glowing with health. She has always been a sports lover, competitive by nature, just like her twin sister.

As a schoolgirl she was a bullet sprinter, hurdler and A-grade netballer. She was also a triathlete who, while preparing for the Mooloolaba Triathlon in 2008, was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time, at age 43.

The second diagnosis, in 2013, came days before friends prepared to board planes to celebrate her five-year remission.

They came anyway, to support a woman about to undergo a double mastectomy and more concerned about how her diagnoses affected those around her than herself.

For Wendy, it's not a case of wallowing in the fact she's had cancer, it's what she's doing about it. "I am a firm believer what the mind believes, the body achieves," she said.

She lifts her arms high above her head, something most women who have had a double mastectomy find impossible to do.

"My doctor said I'd never be able to lift my arms above my head. I never even went to a physio, and look."

Such is the spirit of this pint-sized 49-year-old mother of three who frowns at the suggestion the healthy body that earned her a black belt in zen do kai let her down.

She's as quick to credit it for getting her through as she is to point out that it doesn't define who she is.

"I am not even thinking about a breast reconstruction," she said. "Each to their own… but I am happy the way I am."

From wearing colourful wigs and painting her head for chemo sessions, to riding the 200km Rio Tinto Ride to Conquer Cancer, almost every recollection of Wendy's journey is an uplifting story.

Even the first diagnosis six months after arriving on the Coast from South Australia was exactly as it had to be.

"I look at it as the universe pushing me up here for a reason," she said. "In South Australia, I would have had to travel hours for chemo and radiation. Here, everything is five minutes away and look at the beautiful beaches and weather to help me recover."

With no previous history of cancer in her family, Wendy's daughters Tayla and Hayley will have to undergo checks from the age of 28.

"Early detection is so important. You don't have to overdo it, just check yourself on the first day of every month."

Currently, and with pins and needles in her fingers and toes from her final bout of chemo, she is preparing for the Weekend to End Women's Cancers walk in Brisbane later this month.

"I have my dark days, make no mistake," she said. "But something good always comes from something bad.

"I've survived cancer twice, I'm a lucky one," she said.

"Some people don't get that second chance and I'm loving it and living it. Cancer won't kill me… old age will."