By Guest Blogger Ellen Bryant Lloyd
“The sirens went off — Hurry! Hide! My mom, super preggo with me and almost ready to burst, held my father’s hand as he held my brother in his arms. Together, they ran for shelter as the bombs steadily rained down.” – Excerpt from “When Life Hands You Cactuses, Make Margaritas” by Adiba Barney
On October 23,1977, a young pregnant woman and her husband risked their lives to leave a bomb shelter and travel through the war-torn city of Beirut, Lebanon to a hospital. This was the only hope for their baby, who was in distress, to be safely brought into the world.
Later that day by emergency C-section, the couple welcomed their tiny baby, Adiba. The newborn’s fervent cries against the sounds of bombs falling around the city seemed to foreshadow a life that would require great strength and resilience.
Almost 43 years later, I had the great fortune to meet and get to know Adiba. This extraordinary woman touched my heart. She gave me the gift of sharing her story with me, from her earliest memories to present day. It did not take me long to realize that Adiba’s story is unlike any other. While her story is extraordinary, harrowing, and fraught with hardship and adversity, it is one of hope. The kind of hope that inspires others on the deepest of levels.
Adiba and I met one afternoon this past July via Zoom (thanks, 2020…). Adiba greeted me on my computer screen with a wide smile and enthusiastic wave, as though we were long-time friends instead of strangers who had only previously connected through a few emails. Her vivacious, engaging personality facilitated a comfortable conversation and, within a short time, I felt like we had been close friends for years. She is one of those rare people who has a gift for making immediate, authentic connections.
I listened intently as Adiba described what life was like during her first seven years. She and her family lived in constant fear, spending months at a time in a cramped, underground shelter with several other families while the war raged on outside. After losing hope that peace would come to their country, her parents arranged for their family to escape. They fled under the cover of darkness via a smuggler’s boat, a costly and dangerous passage. Their journey led them to find sanctuary in Sweden and, for the first time in years, they no longer lived in constant fear. They were finally free.
Although they were safe, this new chapter of life was not easy in many respects. They had to rebuild their life as immigrants in a foreign country. It was difficult for Adiba and her family to fit in and find their place — they looked different, spoke a different language and had different customs. Over time, with the investment of much time and energy, they acclimated and grew to love Sweden. They were happy and felt at home in this picturesque country.
While Adiba was raised with a lot of love, her family was patriarchal and conservative, which caused extra challenges for her, an independent-minded and spirited young woman. In their culture, women are subservient to men and young girls are expected to take on more maternal roles and responsibilities with regard to taking care of younger children and households. Adiba did as her parents asked of her, but she decided early on that she did not agree with their cultural approach to family, especially with respect to women, and was determined to eventually gain her independence and make decisions that felt right for her. She did not want to worry about being shunned for going out with friends, living on her own without being married, or choosing to marry someone she loved and who would consider her an equal.
Adiba’s first triumph on her path to independence came when she was allowed to attend college several hours away. She was now on track to realize her dreams. The next few years would be full of fun and adventure. She made friends, studied hard, and started focusing on bigger plans for her future. Adiba had her sights set on having a successful career that gave her the opportunity to make an impact on the world and share her life with a supportive, equal partner, which included raising a family together.
While still in college and armed with an entrepreneurial spirit, Adiba started working in the start up tech industry. During this time, she also fell in love with Daniel, a handsome, Italian model she met while competing for the Miss Sweden crown. The two eventually married and Adiba launched a full time career in the tech industry. All seemed perfect. The next logical step was to start a family and fulfill her long-held dream of becoming a mother.
Sadly, Adiba’s longing for a child was met with years of struggling with infertility. Then, at the young age of 27, Adiba received a devastating diagnosis of stage 1 breast cancer. Not even three years later, Daniel’s feelings changed and their marriage ended. By the age of 30, just a few months after her divorce, Adiba’s breast cancer came back, albeit still stage 1. However, just seven years later, she would learn that she had developed stage 4, metastatic breast cancer, of which there is no cure. It may be hard to believe, but all of this was the tip of the iceberg for everything Adiba would face in the years that followed.
Adiba has endured challenges and heartbreak that would cause most people to crumble. But not Adiba. She has always reached deep within herself and found resilience, hope, empowerment, confidence, and love. Adiba has never failed to face adversity with strength and perseverance. She has never given up and always pushed forward, believing that she would not only get through challenges, but thrive in spite of them. After years of talking about writing a book that chronicled all that she has experienced in life, Adiba’s friends encouraged her to get serious and write it. Adiba finally listened and recently released her book, “When Life Hands You Cactuses, Make Margaritas.”
Despite all, Adiba is quick to tell everyone that she loves life and has a great appreciation for it. She has experienced many wonderful things— she has had three amazing love stories, enjoyed travels all over the world, had loads of fun, made a dream career move to Silicon Valley where she achieved great success as a CEO in the male-dominated tech industry, met and married her second and best love of all, and after a 15-year journey and thanks to a surrogate, she finally became a mother to an adorable, two-year old boy, Alex. She also has a tremendous group of family and friends all over the world who love her fiercely. In the short time I have known her, I have witnessed a passion for life in her that is unlike any other I have seen.
After cancer forced her into an early retirement, Adiba, her husband, Kris, and Alex, left the metropolis of San Francisco and moved across the country to a cozy, lakeside community outside of Charlotte that closely resembles her favorite town in Sweden. Today, she relishes spending quality time with Kris and Alex, along with a new tribe of friends she quickly connected with after they moved there two years ago. Her career focus is now on her work with metastatic breast cancer. She shifted from being a star on the international platform in the tech industry to being a bright light on the international stage for raising awareness and money for treatments for metastatic breast cancer, and advocating for all who are affected by it.
Adiba knows that her diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer means that it is not as probable for her to live as long of a life she would like. Thankfully, Adiba has beaten the odds so far and lived more than five years with metastatic breast cancer, thanks to four lines of treatment that have given her additional months or years, in each case. She is committed to living each day of her life fully and with joy. Her goal is to live to see Alex’s fifth birthday, but hopes to be here much longer. In fact, her motto is to “[live] life like there is no tomorrow and like [she is] gonna live forever.”
In keeping with Adiba’s incomparable and selfless spirit, Adiba wrote “When Life Hands You Cactuses, Make Margaritas” as a lasting legacy for her family and the world. She wants to make sure Alex knows her story in her own words, and can hold them close when the time comes for him to face the grief of losing her too soon. She also hopes that everyone who reads her story will find inspiration from her journey and discover ways to face and manage their own challenges in life. In the book, Adiba includes her eight ingredient margarita recipe on how to overcome challenges and thrive in life.
Adiba is donating all of the proceeds from her book to support research for metastatic breast cancer. Her book is available on Amazon here. To learn more about Adiba, metastatic breast cancer, and her journey, follow her on Instagram @adibabarney and on facebook.com/knowmbc.
Along life’s journey, we all meet people who make an indelible mark on our lives. Adiba is one of those people in my life. Her story is remarkable, but her spirit, perseverance, passion for life, constant choice to live in the moment and find joy, and the sincere compassion and true love she extends to everyone truly humbles me. I am grateful to have met her, and forever grateful to now call her my friend.
Professional photo credit for lead image, headshot, and final image: Angie Jacoby Rose
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