Going into this week, I was planning to write about the Lady Legends for the Cure Race set to run today at Pimlico at 1:45 and sponsored by the Susan G. Komen Foundation. This will be a great way to honor some of the top trailblazing female jockeys featuring PJ Cooksey (the first female to pick up a mount for the Preakness) Cheryl White (the first African-American female rider) and Barbara Jo Rubin (the first woman to win a pari-mutuel race in the United States).
But then I spoke with Charelle Barnes and everything changed.
Ray and I met her at the Alibi Breakfast with her son Brendan. She was wearing the Miss Preakness Pink Warrior sash and a smile that most certainly brightened up the room. More on that in a minute.
Another Susan G. Komen/Pimlico venture, the Pink Warrior was awarded to Charelle in the first of what looks to become an annual event. As Miss Preakness Pink Warrior, it is Charelle's job to serve as the official ambassador at all events leading up to and including the middle jewel of racing's Triple Crown.
Pimlico is pledging to raise $100,000 with half of the money going to the Komen Maryland Affiliate for community outreach programs and the other half will go directly into breast cancer research.
Part of that pledge was reinventing the Miss Preakness contest which in years past had more of a pageant feel. This new focus was given the name Miss Preakness Pink Warrior after Candy Coburn's song 'Pink Warrior'. But in their wildest dreams, I don't think the folks at Pimlico could have imagined a better inaugural recipient.
This 36 year-old mother of two is a two-time cancer survivor and is currently fighting for a third time. In 1994 at the age of 21, Charelle was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She had surgery and chemotherapy and radiation treatments and remarkably gave birth to her first son Carroll Barnes IV. At her six-week check-up in May of 1995, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, going through a second surgery. Less than a year later, the cancer returned to her breast and she has continued to fight for her life since.
But talking to her about the disease and her experiences, this is no woman scorned. Through her struggles, Charelle Barnes seems to have earned a grasp on life few of us ever realize.
“Just stay strong, stay positive,” Barnes said when asked what she would say to other cancer survivors. “When you feel as though you have the weight of the world on your shoulders, you can put that weight on the side.”
While Charelle has had to fight this weight nearly her entire adult life, how many of us have a hard time dealing with a long wait at the post office or a pokey driver at the stop light ahead of us? A warrior of her caliber puts life in perspective.
Of course, most people are strong with the help of others and Charelle is no exception. Her husband, Carroll Barnes III, has been her rock on every step of this tumultuous journey.
“He's been by my side. He's been there throughout everything, all the tests, the doctor visits, all of the bad news.”
I asked her if she was still going through chemotherapy. “The doctors have said no more chemo. I'm just taking medicine for the pain.” After nearly 16 years of fighting, it seems there is little else they can do for our Pink Warrior.
But you get the sense that despite the odds, despite the decade and a half journey with more downs than ups, Charelle Barnes is where she knows she's supposed to be. This weekend, she's the face of a disease that virtually every American has been touched by.
“Stay strong for yourself if not for everyone else.”
And keep smiling Charelle. You still have many more rooms to brighten.
Copyright © 2010, Paulick Report
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