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The Suburbanite
  • Jackson girl honors mother, fights back against cancer

  • When eight years is all you get, every second is etched with memories.

    Even with all of those seconds and all those days filled with laughter and hugs, eight years just isn’t enough.

    It’s not enough time to make the kind of memories your heart aches to remember. It’s not enough time to say all the things you want to say or give the number of hugs a mom deserves.

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  • When eight years is all you get, every second is etched with memories.
    Even with all of those seconds and all those days filled with laughter and hugs, eight years just isn’t enough.
    It’s not enough time to make the kind of memories your heart aches to remember. It’s not enough time to say all the things you want to say or give the number of hugs a mom deserves.
    But eight years was all the time that Olivia Barr was given. It was all the time she had to spend with her mother, Erika Cooper.
    “It feels unfair,” Olivia, now 10, said of having to live everyday without her mother. “I still have kind of an empty feeling.”
    Erika died in April 2011 following a five-year fight with colon cancer. She fought the disease for as long as Olivia can remember.
    But Olivia doesn’t remember her mom being sick — at least, those aren’t the things she remembers most. Instead, the little girl remembers the funny faces her mom used to make. The way she would laugh when she heard a silly joke or the days the two of them spent playing, traveling and touring Disney World together.
    “She taught me Spanish and sign language,” Olivia said with a smile, “and my manners.”
    Yes, those are the things that made Olivia’s mom so special. The little things that made Erika such a magnificent mom.
    And those are the things that colon cancer stole from Olivia, leaving her with an “empty feeling” inside.
    CANCER KICKER
    But that “empty feeling” isn’t eating away at little Olivia Barr.
    It’s empowering her, driving her.
    That “empty feeling” deep in her heart is what lead Olivia fight cancer in her mother’s memory.
    In the weeks that followed her mother’s death, Olivia did something extraordinary. She gathered her friends and family and rallied them to help raise awareness about colon cancer and pool funding that helps to find a cure for cancer.
    “I wanted to do this,” Olivia said, “so that nobody else would have to go through what I did: My mom dying from colon cancer.”
    With help from her father Joe Barr and aunt Kelly Barr, Olivia established Kids Involved in Cancer Research (KICR), a nonprofit organization designed to give children and adults the power they need to fight cancer and “kick” it once and for all.
    “I was dumbfounded when she came up with the idea,” Kelly said. “I am so proud of her and what she has accomplished. She really wanted to do this to prove that kids want to be involved and kids can make a difference at a young age.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Olivia has made a difference.
    She set a goal to raise $100,000 before she graduates from high school.
    “I’m a long way from that, I can tell you that much,” Olivia said matter-of-factly before cracking a bright, determined smile.
    A long way, perhaps. But the little girl is certainly on her way.
    Through two years of fundraising Olivia and her family have raised $12,500. The money has been donated to The James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute. Olivia chose to work with The James because it was one of the hospitals that treated Erika.
    “And,” Kelly said, “it was important to (Olivia) that the money she raised went to colon cancer research,” Kelly said.
    Nearly all of the money raised by KICR has been through an annual 5K. Olivia spearheaded the organization of the first walk in 2011 and has continued the efforts since.
    MORE LIKE MOM
    Each year, more people get involved in the 5K and more money is donated to the cause. Seeing the organization grow is proof to Olivia that she is doing the right thing. Doing all that she can to keep her mother’s legacy alive.
    But what she may not realize is that she keeps her mother’s memory alive everyday by just being Olivia.
    Joe sees that clearly.
    “In her mannerisms, definitely,” Joe said. “The older she gets, the more I see her mom in the things she says and does.”
    Kelly sees a lot of Erika in Olivia, too. When the little girl smiles or laughs or cracks a quick-witted joke, Kelly shakes her head and thinks “that’s Erika.” More than anything else, Olivia’s quiet determination pays tribute to Erika in the strongest of ways.
    Given just one year to live after her diagnosis, Erika fought back and spent five more years with her family before succumbing to the disease.
    “(Erika) did not think, right up to the day she died, that cancer was going to kill her,” Kelly said. “It was that never-give-up attitude of her’s that helped her to fight.”
    And it’s with that same attitude that Olivia fights on.