February 21, 2012 – Mobile Infirmary Hospital, Mobile, Alabama: The doctor called Barbara in the late afternoon. There was urgency in his voice. He wanted her in Mobile for an early morning biopsy the following day, and she would need a driver. Her sister Kathy volunteered. They arrived at 10 p.m. and spent the night in the emergency room.
The biopsy indicated a rare form of cancer – a neuroendocrine tumor located in the area of Barbara’s pancreas. “Kathy cried,” Barbara recalled, “And for a girl like me who doesn’t scare easily, this was a bit scary.” The doctor wanted to schedule surgery in Mobile as soon as possible. Barbara, no stranger to cancer, wanted a second opinion.
Barbara Sheffield was born in Monroeville, Alabama in April 1959. Her father was a superintendent for W. S. Newell Construction Company. Growing up, Barbara’s mother always told her, “You’re fearless like your grandmother (Ada Bell Turk) – she was not afraid of man, beast, the dark, or cancer.” Barbara idolized her grandmother. After graduating from Monroe Academy, Barbara earned a psychology degree from Judson College.
After college, Barbara began work at Southwest Mental Health in Monroeville. She worked at the Monroeville Medical Clinic for four years, then in Charter Hospital’s Monroeville office before joining Crowne Health Care in 1989. For almost 30 years, Barbara has served as executive assistant to Crowne owner and president Billy Jones.
In July 2003, at age 44, Barbara was diagnosed with breast cancer. Because her sister, Jeanette, had won her battle with breast cancer a decade before, Barbara wasn’t too concerned. ‘OK, I can get through this, my sister did,” Barbara thought. Surgery was followed by almost 40 early morning radiation treatments in Brewton. Barbara was back at work at Crowne everyday by 9:00 a.m.
In early 2011, Barbara began having severe stomach problems. Doctors thought she had irritable bowel syndrome. She lost 40 pounds. Late in the year, during a visit with her oncologist, Dr. Michael Meshad in Daphne, a tumor was discovered in her abdomen. After the biopsy in February, Barbara and Kathy went to UAB hospital in Birmingham for a second opinion.
Barbara’s diagnosis was confirmed. The cancer had a 40% survival rate. “In the doctor’s office, Barbara whispered, “Lord, I got through cancer the first time. I can’t do it again. You take it! It’s in your hands!”
Barbara had surgery on her birthday, April 4, 2012. In a complex surgery at UAB, Dr. Martin Hesling removed the tumor, which was located in an area of delicate anatomy near the head of the pancreas and common bile duct. He also removed several lymph nodes where the cancer had spread. A weeklong stay in the hospital was followed by eight weeks off work. No chemo or radiation treatment was necessary.
Barbara has been cancer-free for seven years. She visits her oncologist at UAB every nine months. In the spring of 2019, the doctor discovered a lump on Barbara’s thyroid. He thought it might be malignant. “I am a walking time bomb,” Barbara laughed, “But I am a close friend of the Great Physician. I will be fine either way.” On April 5, the day after Barbara’s 60th birthday, the right node of her thyroid was removed at UAB. It was benign.
“Daddy always told us to never give up,” Barbara remembers, “He said we may be beaten down, but to never give up, and I never will. Because of cancer, I’ve learned not to take life for granted. I watched my grandmother Ada Bell die from colon cancer. She never whined, never complained and was not afraid to die. She was strong!” Barbara Sheffield is just like her grandmother.
“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” Frederick Buechner