Two months before Larson planned to take part in the 2008 Relay For Life, she received a grave message that made her realize the walk would become something special to her. That day, the Tracy woman was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Nobody understands what goes through your head when the doctor looks at you and says, ‘You have cancer,’” Barbara’s husband, Todd Larson, said. “It’s like if someone said, ‘By the way, you have a time bomb in your body.’”
Suddenly, the relay, which benefits the American Cancer Society, had a whole new meaning to Barbara. Her team, “Babs’ Buddies,” had participated in the walk for the past six years, but now that she was facing the reality of cancer, it meant something more.
Larson, 42, wanted to become more active in Tracy’s relay, which had had its ninth annual event Saturday. She joined the planning committee and is now the luminaria co-chair.
This year, Larson was able to wear purple — the color of a survivor.
“I was so touched by the outpouring of support,” said Larson, a special-education teacher for Tracy Unified School District. “Everybody just embraced me. Survivors reached out to me that I didn’t know that well, but now we’re close.”
After a mastectomy and chemotherapy treatments, she has been cancer-free since October. Because of her fight with cancer and her work with the Relay For Life, she was chosen as Tracy’s survivor of the year.
“Her story is amazing,” relay co-chair Tina Brown said. “She pulled together her family from all over the state, and they were one of our top fundraising teams. She hasn’t stopped there. She’s really an inspiration, because she takes what happened and turns it into something good.”
Larson said the support of her brother, Mickey Kilbourne, was a huge motivator. Mickey had renal cancer about five years before Larson was diagnosed. Before Larson went to the doctor’s office on March 11, it was Mickey, calling from Thousand Oaks, who did all he could to cheer her up.
He knew what she was going through and knew what she needed to hear.
“He was just very inspiring, and I couldn’t help but think if he’s battling what he’s battling for as long as he has, and he has the attitude and spirit … I can certainly do this,” Barbara said.
Later, Todd said, Barbara was supporting Mickey, telling him about the Relay For Life and all the other resources out there for cancer patients and survivors.
Todd, who introduced Barbara to the rain-wetted crowd of hundreds on Saturday and gave her the survivor of the year sash, has been impressed with how well his wife has taken all of this.
“It’s hazy and amazing,” Todd said. “She doesn’t wait for things to happen. She goes after it. I know that she has coped very well.”
• In the Spotlight is a weekly profile in Our Town. To nominate someone to be In the Spotlight or to comment on this week’s column, contact Our Town Editor Justin Lafferty at 830-4269 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Meet Barbara Larson
How long in Tracy: Six years
Born: Cleveland, Ohio
Education: La Reina High School, Thousand Oaks; University of the Pacific, Stockton
Work: Special-education teacher, Tracy Unified School District
How long cancer-free: Since October 2008