Lymphoma Survivor & Singing Sensation – Barbara Padilla’s Story of Hope
From her birth in Guadalajara, Mexico to the stage at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, Barbara Padilla's life has been an incredible journey.
American households got to meet Barbara as a contestant on NBC's America's Got Talent. After wowing the celebrity judges and audience with her incredible operatic voice, she brought tears to their eyes when she identified herself as a Hodgkin lymphoma survivor.
Barbara's Personal Journey with Hodgkin lymphoma
AT 23, Barbara was attending two schools – one for language and one for music. Yes, she had been losing weight; maybe a little too much weight. And, there was that lump on her neck, but it did not hurt. As Barbara states it, "I learned a valuable lesson: do not ignore a lump because it does not hurt. My lump was about the size of a lime cut in half and was not symmetrical. I could not see it, but I could feel it. If you notice a lump that will not go away; go see your doctor."
Thankfully, Barbara had scheduled a dinner date with her mother. "My mother had worked at a hospital for 30 years and when I mentioned the lump to her, she immediately took me to see one of the doctors." A biopsy and MRI revealed lumps throughout Barbara's body, "Unlike most people, a doctor did not give me the news; my mother told me I had Stage IV Hodgkin lymphoma."
Like many newly diagnosed patients, Barbara had never heard about lymphoma. "I heard about leukemia from the movies, but didn't have a clue about lymphoma."
Barbara's HL was extremely stubborn; she underwent rounds several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. "My world came close to shattering completely when they told me that radiation treatments could harm my vocal cords and I might never be able to sing again. I cried and cried and cried. Singing is my life. If I don’t get treatment, I may die. If I get treatment, I may never sing again, but maybe, with God’s blessings, I will sing again." And sing again she did. In fact, Barbara's voice was never affected – no cough, no dry mouth. The back of her neck was burned, she lost her hair, but she kept on singing.
"With a Little Help From Her Friends"
At the same time she was battling lymphoma, Barbara was the section leader and soloist for the State Choir of Jalisco. This chance to perform professionally turned into an opportunity to fly to the United States for a second opinion. "I will be forever grateful to Harlan Snow, conductor of the State Choir. Harlan not only decided I should go to Houston for a second opinion, he raised the funds and arranged for people to take care of me," remembered Barbara.*
A Very Eventful Trip to Houston
So it was off to Houston for a consultation at M. D. Anderson. Wile there, Judy Hoover, her Houston guide, called Peter Jacoby Moore’s School of Music at the University of Houston, and arranged for an audition. To this day, Peter will say "I don't know why I picked up the phone and I don't know why I said yes." But, he did say yes, Barbara auditioned the next day and was immediately offered a full scholarship though her Masters degree. In January 2000, Barbara came to Houston and started attending classes.
Flash forward to summer 2000 and Barbara’s lymphoma reared its ugly head again. "Everyone in Houston, told me to relax, they would take care of everything and fly my mother in to be with me," Barbara remembers. "But, I wanted to be home surrounded by friends and family."
On December 1, 2000, Barbara was admitted to the hospital for an allogenic stem cell transplant that took place on December 5. Given the severity of this procedure, she did not expect to return to Houston until 2001 had passed. But, miracles do happen and on January 13, 2001 she was on a flight back to Texas.
Key Lessons Learned
In addition to learning that we should all be aware of lumps; even if they are painless, Barbara's personal experience taught her a very valuable lesson that she openly wants to share. "None of us wants to face the possibility of dying. But, we have no control over when and how that will happen. I try to concentrate on living. When I come to my end, I do not want to think I could have or should have done more."
*Not being one that forgets the importance of friends, Barbara specifically requested that we mention Harlan's generosity of heart, mind and spirit