‘I’m Doing an Amazing Job at Life’: Lebanon’s Barber Upbeat in Face of Paralysis Rehab

  • Julie Barber

  • Lebanon High hockey player Julie Barber shortly before recent surgery to address a tumor in her spinal cord that will likely leave her paralyzed below the waist for life. Courtesy photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/4/2016 11:57:58 PM
Modified: 12/6/2016 12:20:23 PM

Lebanon — Lebanon High’s Julie Barber and her mom, Kate, keep a list of all the mundane tasks that Julie wants to learn again. Getting out of bed is up there, as is showering, driving a car and getting to school. Learning to play hockey again is on there, too. So far, the list is nearly 10 pages long.

Barber, a junior defenseman for the Lebanon girls hockey team, has been diagnosed with grade II astrocytoma, a cancerous tumor inside her spinal cord that began with some back pain on Columbus Day weekend and has turned into something severe. She has lost control of her body from her stomach down, and her family has been told she is unlikely to regain the use of her legs.

“I feel like it all happened so quickly,” Julie Barber said in a phone interview from her Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center room on Sunday. “It went from my back hurting and it not being a big problem to surgery in like three days.”

Barber’s condition has forced the 16-year-old and her family to study Barber’s interaction with the world around her from a much different perspective, knowing that things will be different when she finally returns home. But the family has also been taken aback from the outpouring of support that she has received.

A fundraising campaign to offset medical costs on the fundraising website GoFundMe has raised a $25,960 of their $50,000 goal from 252 donors.

The members of Lebanon girls hockey team, in their first week of preseason practices, has dedicated its season to their teammate, with plans to put Barber’s jersey up in the locker room before every game and by sewing her No. 17 in a patch on her uniforms.

The Dartmouth College women’s hockey team illustrated its support in a tweet on Dec. 1.

“The Dartmouth Hockey family is sending love to Julie Barber and her family! #BarberStrong,” it read.

For the Raiders, who began preseason practices last week, the news of Barber’s condition stunned everyone. Addressing the team after realizing the severity of her condition was one of the hardest meetings Lebanon head coach Brad Shaw said he has had to preside over.

“Everyone was emotional,” Shaw said. “But these kids are so strong. They’ve really come together.”

Those on the ice this week have tried to follow Barber’s lead and stay positive.

“We’ve visited her a lot. We’ve written her cards,” said Elizabeth Jones, a junior defenseman for the Raiders who also is one of Barber’s closest friends. “Brad gave Julie her practice jersey and welcomed her onto the team. She’s still on the team. We’re not going to take her off the roster. Hopefully she’ll come back.”

“They have a really tight-knit family,” Jones noted of the Barbers. “They’re all super supportive of each other. They’re always there. And they have so many visitors.”

Barber provided an assist on the Lebanon blue line last season and picked up crucial minutes with the Raiders (9-10-0) severely shorthanded on the bench. She was slated to be one of three defensemen this season for the Raiders, who once again are scrambling to find numbers despite organizing a cooperative program with Stevens High in the offseason.

“(Brad) still had to talk to the athletic director (Lebanon’s Mike Stone) to see if we were going to have a team,” Jones said. “Even during our first practice, we didn’t know if we were going to have a team.”

The Raiders have 13 players on their roster this season. They practiced with two offensive lines and one defensive pairing in the first week of preseason training.

But Barber’s situation has given Lebanon some perspective, something to play for — an example of courage and strength to follow both on and off the ice.

“She’s one tough kid,” Shaw said. “The thing about Julie is she has such a great attitude. She’s one of the most mentally tough kids I’ve met. She’s so positive about everything.”

Meg Tenney, a Cornish resident and friend of the Barber family, organized the fundraising effort on Nov. 23 to help the family offset the cost of Barber’s changing lifestyle, an effort that involves heavy construction of the first floor of the Barber’s home in addition to medical and rehabilitation costs.

“I was just looking to help (in) anyway I could,” Tenney said in an email on Sunday.

To contribute, visit www.gofundme.com/help-the-barbers-help-julie.

Kate Barber said fundraising is less on her mind than the immediate future.

Julie will require another surgery on Friday to remove the rest of the tumor from her spine, a procedure that is critical so that it doesn’t spread and impact mobility in the rest of Julie’s body. But through it all, Kate Barber said she’s been inspired by the way her daughter has taken on her new reality.

“That’s always been inside her. That’s who she is,” Barber said. “She’s a focused, determined kid.”

Barber will soon travel to Spaulding Rehabilitation Center in Boston for six weeks of physical therapy. But Kate said her daughter is already determined to make to Lebanon’s opening game of the season on Dec. 13 against Kingswood and is figuring out ways to make that happen.

Hockey, as Julie described it, is a lifelong passion, making her absence from the team that much more frustrating.

“It’s my favorite sport,” Barber said. “I was really excited to play this year.

“I really kind of like that it’s a sport that not everybody can play,” she added. “It’s a special sport. I just love it.”

Kate called the last few weeks a “whirlwind,” for both Julie and the family. But what keeps her grounded is the amount of support her daughter has gotten from both the Lebanon and general hockey communities, a testament to Barber’s determination and mental toughness to see things in a positive light no matter the odds.

“There aren’t words to describe how amazing it is to see,” Kate said. “It’s literally from across the country. One of the things she keeps saying, ‘I’m doing an amazing job at life.’ And she is. She’s just taking it every day as it comes.”

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.
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