Note: The fundraiser originally scheduled for Nov. 9 in Algonquin’s Student Commons has been postponed due to a family emergency. No alternative date has been set.
By Sophie Desrosiers
Deafening silence fills the room as three young boys run to their mother on the couch and climb onto her to wish her goodnight. Everyone watches as though they are privy to a private moment, as she squeezes each close to her with her left arm.
Andrea Barnes can only hold her sons with one arm after a seizure on Sept. 16 left her right side paralyzed. Yet this is just a fraction of the battle the Barnes family faces.
After a series of seizures, 34-year-old Barnes was diagnosed with a brain tumor in January 2010 and has since undergone four brain surgeries and several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. In March 2013, Barnes had the last of her inactive brain removed. This was the last possible surgery doctors could perform to try and save her.
But the cancer continued to spread quickly and aggressively, and doctors ran out of options. The Barnes have been told they are running out of time, fast.
Her husband Stef Barnes and their boys, three-year-old Jonathon, four-year-old Micheal, and nine-year-old Joshua now prepare for their most difficult challenge in life as they watch their wife and mother’s health deteriorate.
“It breaks my heart in every way,” said Crystal Barnes-Latreille, a 28-year-old travel and tourism student at Algonquin, and Stef Barnes’ sister. “They’re going to miss their mom so much.”
This isn’t the Barnes family’s first battle with cancer. When she was a young girl, Barnes-Latreille remembers going to classes at Algonquin with her older sister Paula, an accommodation facilitated by the college while Barnes-Latreille’s mother battled cancer.
The support offered up by the college then was a deciding factor in Barnes-Latreille’s decision to recruit the Algonquin community once again to help her family, while she completes her studies.
“I noticed as a kid, Algonquin is such a wonderful community,” said Barnes-Latreille. “I saw how well she did in the program and I saw what a wonderful school it was.”
Barnes-Latreille is busy planning a family barbecue-themed fundraiser for Nov. 9 in the Student Commons with the help of public relation students, the Students’ Association, and anyone else within the college walls willing to help. She is also trying to keep up with her workload as a student.
While she admits the juggling act is overwhelming at times, she credits her professors for helping make this time easier for her.
“We’ve already come up with an educational plan,” said Barnes-Latreille, explaining that the school has allowed her to drop some classes and take them over the summer so she has more time to focus on her family in their time of need.
Barnes-Latreille hopes to raise money through her fundraising attempts to help her brother and his family with the financial toll the disease has taken. Stef and Andrea Barnes were forced to shut down their poker table business in July 2010 because of Andrea’s health, and Stef has only been able to work minimal hours as he cares for his wife.
The college community’s efforts to help and support the Barnes family, including a taco lunch fundraiser held Sept. 30 at the Mamidosewin Centre, has already touched Stef Barnes.
“It’s invigorating to know that people care,” said Stef Barnes. “Strangers care.”