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In the fall of 1998, I first met Steve, my future husband. We were introduced by a mutual friend, and I knew at that moment we would one day be married and share many adventures and challenges.

We began dating a few months later and enjoyed our time together. Our relationship grew stronger; our bond, tighter. We were becoming a team!

We spoke of our parents often. I shared that when I was 15, my father passed from lung cancer. Daddy was a very important part of my life, and he always said he hoped that one day I might help find the cure for cancer.

A few years later, we celebrated a milestone birthday for me. To my complete surprise, Steve flew us to Philadelphia, where he somehow secured last-minute dinner reservations at Morimoto. As fans, we were thrilled to meet Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, who prepared a special meal for us and presented a thoughtful birthday note to me.

Back in Tampa, and having just turned 40, I scheduled my baseline mammogram. Little did I know our world was about to turn upside down.

Steve was by my side the day my physician shared the somber news that I had breast cancer. Steve promptly fainted on the spot. At that moment, I knew we were in this together – my cancer journey and the rest of our lives! It was the only positive ray of hope I found that dreadful day.

My chapter with breast cancer was a long one, spanning almost eight years. Steve was with me from the beginning. He accompanied me to all my appointments and was my biggest supporter and friend during this very difficult time. About halfway through this journey, I became a Moffitt Cancer Center patient. I’m so pleased to report that I now visit Moffitt’s Survivorship Clinic for my annual wellness examinations and appointments.

I Am More Than a Survivor; I’m a Surthrivor!

Almost three years after my diagnosis, Steve and I were married at our church, surrounded by family and friends. Several of those present were special people who had become a part of our lives during the time Steve and I were actively dealing with my cancer. It was – and still is – the best day of my life! My beautiful mother walked me down the aisle, but I knew my late father was right by my side as well.

And his words crept into my mind that sunny April afternoon, “I hope that one day, Laura, you might help find the cure for cancer.”

We’re in This Together

Steve has been a runner for most of his life and has always enjoyed racing competitively. I only run if it’s to chase a tennis ball, but I do enjoy walking for fitness. I began joining Steve when he signed up for various 5K events in the Tampa area. He would run, I would walk but we were a team, starting and ending the races together. He always circles back after his run to walk alongside me as I cross the finish line.

It was during his regular runs in 2009 that he began to think age was impacting his endurance and speed. He found himself out of breath frequently, and his runs were starting to more closely resemble my walks.

This shortness of breath signaled the beginning of a new cancer journey – this time for Steve. We returned to Moffitt, together, and Steve received a diagnosis of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a rare blood disorder of the stem cells in the bone marrow.

After trying several treatments, this stealthy disease was continuing to worsen and would likely become acute myeloid leukemia (AML) within a matter of weeks. The only remaining option was a daunting one – a stem cell transplant, commonly called a bone marrow transplant.

We began our journey through Moffitt’s world of blood and marrow transplantation (BMT) in May of 2012, under the leadership of Dr. Claudio Anasetti, then department chair of the BMT program at Moffitt.

Time was a precious commodity and it was ticking away. A matching unrelated donor was located, and there was so much to do in the weeks leading to transplant – tests, more tests, biopsies, appointments, more appointments, training, research; and preparations made in our home for post-transplant needs.

Our donor’s lifesaving gift was received in the early morning hours on October 13.

Anasetti and his team were – and are – exceptional. The treatments, care and support Steve received at Moffitt were incredible, and we are forever grateful. As a caregiver, I was included and welcomed as part of Steve’s team in this collaborative support system.

Steve’s intense BMT journey continues to this day, although things are much closer to a new normal for us now. After  Anasetti’s retirement in 2017, Dr. Joseph Pidala became Steve’s lead physician, and he and his team continue to provide the outstanding level of care that is a Moffitt hallmark.

Because of our remarkable experiences at Moffitt, once Steve was cleared to begin his full exercise regimen, we were excited to resume our running and walking at 5K events and we could imagine no better place to begin than at Miles for Moffitt. At the time, Miles for Moffitt was held on the campus of the University of South Florida, where Moffitt’s main campus is located.

Our first race was an incredible experience. We felt powerful and triumphant as we passed the clinic and hospital. We saw many team members who had helped both of us in our journeys; and it was also very special for me to walk the campus of my alma mater which has grown exponentially since I was a student.

Miles for Moffitt quickly became a favorite race for us, and we have participated every year since.

Two years ago, the event moved to downtown Tampa, and we appreciate this new venue and the beautiful views that await all participants as they exercise and compete along Bayshore Boulevard.

What is most important to us is that all the money raised goes directly to Moffitt research.

So, perhaps in this small way, I am honoring one of my father’s final wishes – and that of all cancer patients – by helping to find the cure for cancer. One step at a time.

This article was written by Laura Miller Barber, a Moffitt patient, caregiver and volunteer.