To friends and family, Barb Fisher is affectionately known as Full Blast Barb. "That’s just how she lives," Barb’s daughter, Dani Johnson, tells us. "Everything she does is full-on. As kids, we used to be in awe of her strength and athleticism."
In March 2019, Barb’s blast would come to a screeching halt when she was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer. Johnson, a wellness physical therapist in Mayo Clinic’s Healthy Living Program in Rochester, tells us the diagnosis came out of nowhere. "My mom had absolutely no warning signs and no symptoms, which is unfortunately common with ovarian cancer," she says. "She was out playing tennis twice a day up until the day she went in to see her primary care provider" after she'd experienced "some swelling in her abdomen."
A CT scan showed Barb was suffering from more than just swelling. "It was clear there was something very wrong," Johnson tells us. "My mom was then referred to Mayo Clinic in Rochester where she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer."
Though Barb’s grit and strong will would help propel her through a nine-hour surgery, there was one thing in particular she was having trouble with. "My mom was really trying to stay positive, but one thing she mentioned to my daughter and I was that while she was ready to continue fighting her cancer with chemotherapy, she was concerned about losing her hair," Johnson tells us. "For some women losing their hair is a telltale symbol of, 'I’m sick, and now everyone else can see I’m sick, too.'"
Hearing this, Johnson’s daughter, Aleia, wanted to do something to ease her grandmother’s fears. "She and I went on the internet and tried to find some cute head scarves for my mom to wear," Johnson says. "We just didn’t find anything that spoke to us."
So they decided to make their own. "My mom had actually taught Aleia how to sew, and so we just decided to pick out our own fabric and sew the head scarves ourselves," Johnson says. When Aleia presented the beanies to her grandmother, Barb's "face lit up with a huge smile. It was the first genuine smile we’d seen from her in a long time," Johnson tells us. It was a smile they wanted to see again and again. "Aleia and I then said, 'OK, we want everyone battling cancer to smile like this and to feel this loved and cared for,'" Johnson says.
And so Barb’s Beanies was born. "We started making more beanies and giving them to other cancer patients in hopes of also giving them a silver lining in what they’re going through," Johnson says. "It’s just been amazing so far."
And much farther-reaching than either Johnson or her daughter could have imagined. "We’ve now donated over 250 beanies to six different institutions, including Mayo Clinic Cancer Education Center, Ronald McDonald House and Hope Lodge," Johnson says. "Our beanies are also part of every Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance care kit that goes out to newly diagnosed ovarian cancer patients in Minnesota. It’s just been such an incredible journey for us to just feel like we can help put a smile on somebody’s face and help them feel like someone else cares about them and what they’re going through."
You can listen to Dani and Aleia Johnson talk more about their work with Barb’s Beanies here. Then tell us what you think by sharing your comments below before using the handy social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.
Tags: Chemotherapy, CT scan, Dani Johnson, Employee Stories, Healthy Living Program, Hope Lodge, Mayo Clinic Cancer Education Center, Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Ovarian Cancer, Patient Stories, Ronald McDonald House