The house that was my home for 12 years had a quite large cherry tree in the back yard. Each year I was allowed to go higher on the ladder to pick the sweet/sour red berries. After the picking Mom made tasty cherry cobbler and cherry pies. She also preserved them in Mason jars and used some to make jelly.

Our home was on Mooberry Street and at some point after we moved out, there was a fire and the property became a cavity filled with weeds. In recent years a house from a similar neighborhood was moved in and fits the style of homes already still there. These two story houses so close to each other are now very close to a busy interstate highway.

Mom and Dad were very proud the day they made a down payment on their first house. It was in the 1930’s. On my first birthday Dad began what would be an annual event for my sister and me. He planted two spindly maple trees — one for my older sister and one for me. Every year on my birthday he photographed us standing next to our maple trees. By the time I was twelve and packing to move I remembered with joy how these trees grew. In the spring they produced these wonderful miniature flying machines, and fall brought the vibrant red leaves. Raking wasn’t much fun but jumping in the piles certainly was.

In the basement my dad had installed a complete woodworking shop. The tools hanging on pegboard were in order by size and purpose — every hammer and screwdriver had a specific location. He was a master at organization, paying attention to the finest detail.

Dad found 24 wooden cheese boxes and stacked them in a wooden frame. They held every conceivable nail, screw, washer, nut and bolt. Of course each box was labeled.

One of my favorite spots during my elementary school years was in the workshop sitting on a high stool with a round wooden seat, simply watching my dad. Come fall Dad would spend many hours cutting a variety of wooden shapes. Every piece was carefully cut on the jigsaw following the pencil traced lines. It was then sanded and painted a bright color. Mom and I helped when it was time to assemble the various shapes into toys that were donated to an organization that distributed them to families who would be unable to buy Christmas toys for their children.

As I matured I was allowed to use the various tools and machines. Dad would show me what to do and then it was my responsibility to clean what I used, replace tools to their proper places and vacuum the sawdust. I remember creating a small wooden boat I proudly made and painted green. It actually floated.

If I had been born a boy, I think my dad would have encouraged me to follow his career path. He worked at Federal Glass Company, as did my mother, her father, and several brothers. Mom was a secretary there, but when my parents married, she had to quit because of a rule that only one of a couple could have a job there. In the early 1940’s Dad and a friend formed a business they named Manifold and Phalor Machine Company. They repaired and designed many types of machinery. The business thrived with their motto, “If you can’t buy it, we’ll make it.”

Dad worked 50 weeks a year and Mom maintained our home. During his two weeks of summer vacation, from 1941-1951 we loaded the car and drove to a new state park called Lake Hope. It was a part of Zaleski State Forest in southeastern Ohio. It took forever to get there. Log cabins were rented to families, and I have many happy memories of returning year after year to a place I loved.

I vividly recall a concrete platform which served as a “look-out” over the vast forest. A trail led to the lake where we frequently journeyed for an afternoon swim. One summer, perhaps when I was ten, new cabins were being built and each one was constructed from a different type of wood. We gathered samples from each site. After returning home Dad cut them all to the same dimensions, sanded and glued them to a board, then placed a label below. It didn’t take long for me to recognize the difference between cherry and walnut along with the others.

My childhood memories of Lake Hope are vivid. I still smell the logs burning in the fireplace and watching the embers as they cooled. Mom fixed our meals and every evening we played cards or board games. Children whose parents take time and initiative for experiences of this type are fortunate indeed, as I was.




That year, 1987, was my youngest son’s senior year of high school — his year of celebration and I was now stealing the spotlight. The surgery to remove my breast took place at our small town hospital in March. Erich came to visit and nearly passed out. I don’t know what part of me, in that hospital bed, caused his reaction. I watched his face turn white and his eyes begin to roll.

The surgeon explained that the malignant lump was encased in a cyst, making it easy for him to scoop out. He said he was sure that by removing the breast I would not need further treatment. That was really good news. With five weeks left of my six-week leave from work, I thought about the multitude of books stacked on shelves at home, unread, and knew this would be my opportunity. My work as an elementary school counselor was on hold.

Headed home at the end of the week, I felt more pain than I anticipated but was upbeat with the knowledge that once healed I could return to work. Life would get back to normal. The next week my oldest son asked if he could come home from college for a while. He had been diagnosed with Mononucleosis, the “kissing disease.” He laid on one sofa, I the other. We did not kiss nor did we talk about cancer.

A few days later I received a call from my doctor telling me he was referring me to another doctor in the practice — the one who handles cancer patients. Why? I was healing and the surgeon said he “got it all.” My new doctor explained that the type of cancer was an aggressive form and he was recommending six months of chemotherapy. He said I would be taking medication by pills every day and by IV every other week. If he gave me the IV drugs on Friday I would have two days to crash and be ready for work on Monday. In my innocence I believed him and took the stance that I would continue working to prove to him that I was tough. That would ultimately become fallacy as my strength dwindled.

Upset about the “treatment plan” I sat at the dining room table working on a puzzle. Erich, my youngest son walked by and I asked him to help me. Through my tears I told him about the decision for chemo and reassured him that I didn’t intend to die of cancer. He brought a smile to my face as he jokingly said, “You’ll probably get hit by a car on the way to your last chemo treatment!”

Although weak, I wanted to work for a week in May to prepare the 5th graders for their transition to middle school. Wearing my wig I thought I looked normal but then in one of the classrooms a boy rose from his seat and started walking across the room. I didn’t understand his intentions until he told me he was bringing me a chair because I looked so tired. How thoughtful!

In June I watched my son receive his high school diploma. The wig I wore was a constant reminder of cancer and it made my head hot. My emotions of pride and fear tumbled. July was the month Erich’s chosen college conducted a “Parent’s Weekend.” I was there, but don’t ask me any details. The chemo fog had taken over.

The first week of September came and my husband and I moved our son into the dorm. Awkwardly we asked if he wanted us to make the bed or unpack the boxes and suitcases. A brief pause told us it was time to leave. Tears cascaded down my cheeks as we walked away. Would I live to see him graduate from college? Would cancer prevent me from following him into his new world?

September was a month of great conflict. I was down to two remaining IV’s. The daily dose of pills continued. Since March I had expected the chemo drugs to have less impact as time passed. I was wrong. Each day led to greater weakness. I couldn’t lay down hard enough. If only I could return to work, my spirits would be boosted and I could focus on things other than my body. My office was on the 3rd floor which meant many ups and downs the staircase. After lunch and some of my chemo pills, the floor of my office was my only recourse. At least I could close the door. My vision blurred and when I went out for home visits I couldn’t read the street signs. No GPS back then. Also, I had a thirty minute drive home.

Ultimately the principal and I decided that I would stay home on Wednesdays to rest. The problem was that my mind was filled with abnormal energy that caused me to feel anxious, inadequate, sad, guilty, angry, nervous and depressed. There were no substitutes for my position so when I stayed home the work piled higher. My body had abandoned me. Legs weak, eyes blurred, poor concentration and newly developing hearing loss made classroom discussions far below my standards. I completed the school year but felt no satisfaction. The next school year I was evaluated for disability retirement and that ended my career as a counselor.


Some things I learned:

  •    Rest is necessary and there is no reason to feel guilty.
  •    Alternative therapies are available and valuable. Your doctor needs to be told.
  •    Others offer to help. Be specific about what you need and who can be of help.
  •    Doctors do not know everything. I am an equal partner in this process.
  •    It is important to establish priorities.
  •    Prayer, meditation and breathing exercises may offer comfort.

It isn’t just about cancer. Cancer and its treatments rudely thrust themselves into an already occupied life. Relationships and daily tasks are pushed about and chaos occurs unless a great deal of space is made available for the disease. Cancer demands to be recognized and accommodated and I am the one who must give it the attention it requires.



Judging Skin Deep


My face is red, blotchy, scaly, and crusted in areas where the sunburns have been frequent and deep. A prescription cream is applied at night to kill pre-cancerous lesions. Years of sunshine, sometimes without sunblock, both in Ohio and Arizona, have now come to haunt me at the age of 75. Going out in public takes fortitude. I prefer people ask me about it rather than look at my face, then turn away.

Many years ago my friend Susan and I were shopping in a clothing store. She was carrying her three week old baby boy and after a while looked for a place to sit. The only place she saw was a wheelchair near the entrance. Up to this time most everyone stopped to look at the adorable baby. However now the wheelchair became an obstacle of judgment and she was shunned.

We are a world of people with various shades of skin. That is a fact. Some people are taller than others. That is a fact. All children are born in a place over which they have no control. We speak different languages. I believe God created us and it was His plan that we not all look alike or sound alike. My husband is blind. He does not know a person by the color of their skin. He can hear various dialects of people in the United States. He can hear emotional overtones in what a person is saying. Is he judged because of his blindness? Sometimes people walk by and don’t say a word. It is their loss because he is a very interesting person.

In 1987 my body was altered by a mastectomy due to a diagnosis of breast cancer. I didn’t plan to keep it a secret, yet it was hard to talk about. Instead I wrote poetry and found artistic drawings to express my feelings. A prosthesis hides the empty place and my wardrobe is based on “looking normal.” Many years have passed but the word “mastectomy” is still very much alive.

Journey Unknown, 2nd Edition, Focusing on the Emotional Aspects of Cancer, Mastectomy and Chemotherapy tells the story of my experience — some prose, some poetry, some art. There are many reasons why this book would interest you. It seems that every day I hear of someone receiving a diagnosis of cancer. Is this true for you? I want you and your friends and family to talk about what is happening. Life is more meaningful when we share not only the physical issues, but also the emotional and spiritual.

We live life to the fullest when we are unafraid to tell others about what is happening in our lives. They learn from what we share. There may be some who judge us but in the long run, I believe we will benefit.

I still want a tan. My dermatologist will ask me how many more cancerous lesions I want removed. The tan might be only skin deep but I’ll give it up because I don’t want to face another diagnosis of cancer.

Journey Unknown by Margaret Phalor Barnhart Becomes Amazon Bestseller


Margaret Phalor Barnhart’s best-selling book, Journey Unknown, is the deeply personal, inspirational story of her spiritual, emotional and physical journey through breast cancer and chemotherapy.

“For 46 years I was healthy and energetic, never able to appreciate the struggle of many who endure constant pain and illness,” Margaret Phalor Barnhart says. That all changed when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Margaret’s best-selling book, Journey Unknown, is the unique expression of her artistic and poetic response to the most challenging time of her life. “The writings and artwork contained in this book were initiated as my own therapy,” Margaret says. “When thoughts tumbled compulsively within my mind, especially at night, I sought relief through pencil and paper.”

Journey Unknown has achieved best-selling status, ranking number three on the Amazon Best Sellers List in the Cancer category and number four in the Oncology category. “Sharing my story at such an intensely personal level was frightening,” Margaret says. “Following my first group presentation, I imagined myself as an old-fashioned camera, opened at the back, with the film exposed. I hoped I hadn’t been damaged.”

Instead, Margaret’s story has inspired others, and has become a recommended resource for cancer patients, their families, and their friends. “I’ve read Journey Unknown at least 15 times, and I still find new meaning on each page,” said Mary Ann Copeland, former Executive Director of the Miami County, Ohio American Cancer Society. Dr. Kenneth Blank, formerly with the University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center, agrees. “From shock, anger, and denial through depression and acceptance, Mrs. Barnhart’s story is powerful and touching and sure to be an inspiration to other cancer patients,” said Dr. Blank. “The poems and artwork will certainly inspire countless hours of reflection, and the book can be re-read over and over with new insights found each time.”

Through her difficult experiences, Margaret developed a simple perspective on life. “The journey of life is indeed unknown. In a counseling session, I was reminded that I don’t need to understand life. I simply choose how to live it.” Margaret sums it all up in one succinct phrase: “I’ll accept what is, I’ll live for today, I’ll walk through the rainbow and add color wherever I can.”

Margaret has been married to Charles Barnhart since 1992. They live in Tucson, Arizona, where the blue skies and warmer climate are kind to their well-being.

Journey Unknown by Margaret Phalor Barnhart is published by Laurus Books and is available in paperback and eBook versions. To learn more visit