Living Well With Cancer

Nancy Barnes shares her ongoing journey to healing, helping, and happiness

Nancy Barnes. Photograph by Aiden James.

Nancy Barnes is a loving mother of three sons and has been happily married to her life partner, Russell, for 30 years. Now retired, the 56-year-old was previously an oncology RN. She is also living with metastatic kidney cancer and receives treatment and care from Dr. Daniel Heng at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary. With a strong drive to raise funds for cancer research, Barnes is a five-time participant on team RBC in The Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer benefiting the Alberta Cancer Foundation. The Ride is a family affair, and, over the years, her husband, sons, brother and sister have all joined in either as riders or volunteers. Here, Barnes reflects on her cancer journey.

I was initially diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2013, and I quickly underwent surgery to have my entire kidney removed. I was then told I was “good to go” with strict imaging surveillance as follow up. Unlike many other types of cancer, there are no current effective treatments to lower the chance of the kidney cancer returning.

Following surgery, I jumped back into my regular routine without giving much time or thought to dealing with the emotional impact of having cancer. Subsequently, I struggled with feelings of anxiety and depression for several years afterwards. I had lost trust in my body. My reaction was compounded by the fact I had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, for which I had surgery and four rounds of preventive chemotherapy.

In 2017, four years after my initial kidney cancer diagnosis, a scan detected cancer in my lungs. My kidney cancer had spread. In a state of shock, fear and anxiety, I decided to step away from my job as a homecare nurse. Now, being faced with an incurable illness, I realized I wanted to address my anxious, depressed state of mind. Obviously, my old coping mechanisms were not working for me, so I had to learn new ones. I gave myself compassion, love and time to process the emotional trauma I had been through. I deepened my yoga practice and began daily guided meditations. In conjunction with my medical treatment, I began to study Ayurveda, an ancient Indian healing system incorporating the mind, body and soul as a whole. I learned to focus on positivity; from the healthy food I put in my mouth to the healthy thoughts I put in my head. As a result, I began to discover internal peace and healing. To me, being told I have an incurable illness no longer means that I have an expiration date stamped on the bottom of my foot. I’ve made peace in living with the unknown and I’m carrying on living. Now, I take trips, enjoy golfing, cycling and being with loved ones more than ever.

Cancer is random, but I also think we do have some control over our susceptibility to becoming ill. When our body is rundown, stressed and unhealthy, I think we’re all ripe for an illness. If we can learn to slow down and take time to breathe and choose what we put in our bodies — good thoughts and good foods — then maybe we can recognize some early warning signs of any illness.

I used to find it difficult to talk about my cancer because I worried people would feel sorry for me. As I began to heal, I recognized having cancer is not who I am, rather a condition I live with. I can’t predict the future, nor can anyone else, so, living and enjoying the present moment and the people around me is my best chance at true happiness. For me, this is a liberating feeling, and I am living every day to the fullest.


Since this article was written, the 2020 Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Alberta Cancer Foundation is so grateful for the support of all our Riders, sponsors and volunteers.

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