This blog post is part of a month-long focus on breast cancer awareness and prevention. Throughout October we’ll spotlight three courageous women—employees, friends and colleagues—who have touched our lives while battling the disease.
Barbara Koch sees the silver lining in everything. When she was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) just days after a routine annual exam in June 2014, she tackled her treatment like a champ. With three children and a lot to look forward to, she felt she had no other choice. She also felt like she was one of the lucky ones: she had the benefit of tremendous support from her husband, family and a strong circle of friends who surrounded her with love.
It wasn’t long before Barbara found out that she would need all the support she could get. TNBC is highly aggressive, and represents 10-20 percent of all breast cancers. There is no targeted therapy to tackle its advances, which is why chemotherapy is most often used, as opposed to milder hormonal therapies. The chemotherapy drug of choice is frequently Adriamycin, which has been nicknamed AC or Big Red not only because of its signature red color, but also because of its powerful punch.
Barbara underwent her first four heavy-duty Big Red treatments with no ill effects other than losing her shoulder-length hair after her second infusion. Always the optimist, instead of letting it fall out bit by bit, she made the decision to cut it stylishly short—to have a little fun with it! With her favorite Bay Area baseball team making its way to the World Series in 2014, her Giants cap became a mainstay in her wardrobe once she was totally bald.
After her fifth infusion and first round of a new drug, Taxol, Barbara started to feel tired and found it hard to breathe. Her temperature shot up to 104. She was hospitalized due to suffering a bad reaction to Taxol. After five tough days in the hospital she was able to go home, optimistic as ever to get back on track with her treatment. A dose of steroids cleared up her lungs, and she then completed four more rounds of a less toxic chemotherapy. Next, she underwent some reconstructive surgery and had 30 rounds of radiation. She was finally cancer free!
Through it all, including baldness, numb toes, black fingernails and weight loss, Barbara only missed a few days of work, continuing in her role as a senior partner marketing and communications manager for Cisco (now her former employer). Cisco’s flexible remote working policies and its company-wide use of collaborative technology allowed her to avoid taking a leave of absence. This made a huge difference.
It was at one of Cisco’s partner events just prior to her diagnosis that she met Bert Jacobs, chief executive optimist and co-founder of Life is Good. His positive “good vibes” outlook on life—and his company’s policy to donate 10 percent of net profits to children in need— stayed with her throughout her treatment, inspiring her to be strong and have a “gratitude attitude” about life. Bert’s message is all about the day-to- day opportunities we “get to” experience, seeing things in a positive light and helping others.
During Barbara’s treatment, her daughter Alison started a Facebook page, “Good Vibes for Barbie,” to keep loved ones up to date while inviting them to send positive energy, a note, flowers or whatever form of support they could. “It was tremendous,” Barbara said. “I shared and people cared. I found strength through the encouragement and outpouring of love and ‘good vibes’ from everyone.”
The silver lining for Barbara in having breast cancer has been a better understanding of the fact that life is good no matter what the adversity and that there is always something to be thankful for. Now, she wants to be there for other women, just as they were there for her. To that end, she has been actively involved with Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, an organization that Channel Impact also supports. And Barbara continues to live life to the fullest, serving as Board President and producing Stories on Stage for Peninsula Youth Theatre.