An enthusiastic Enid

Bishop's Cove senior uses her survival experience as inspiration to help others

Burton K. Janes
Published on June 22, 2011
Enid Barrett surrounded by some of the "friends" she knits to give to people facing crises in their lives.
Burton K. Janes/The Compass

A cancer patient in her senior years is sitting in the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Centre in St. John's, waiting to see her doctor and struggling to swallow a drop of water.

Spying her, Enid Barrett of Bishop's Cove encircles her with her arms and asks, "What's wrong, my darling?" The woman replies, "Nobody cares." Enid says, "I care. I have an Angel of Hope for you."

The simple handmade object changes the woman's life.

For Enid, who's modest and unassuming, it's simply another opportunity to do what she does best - caring for other people. As a four-time cancer survivor, the 83-year-old has earned her right to care.

Inspired by their faith

Her personal journey into the world of cancer began in June 1982 when she was 54.

"I always went and had pap smears, but never a breast examination," she told The Compass recently.

One day, after her family doctor gave her a breast examination, he said, "Enid, I found something, and you have to go to St. John's."

"It wasn't nice to hear," she admits.

Within days, she was admitted to the Health Sciences Centre, where she had a mastectomy.

She and her husband, John, a retired schoolteacher, are strong believers in God.

"We talked between ourselves and decided we weren't going to look back, but look ahead," 83-year-old John said. "We believed God was going to help us. We never once doubted."

However, their faith would be severely tried seven years later.

In 1989, the dreaded "C" word made a return visit with a vengeance.

"It's only small," Enid's doctor said following a mammogram, "but in two years you could be in trouble."

This time, Enid had a second mastectomy. Before surgery, she told her doctor, "I have to say one word, 'Into thy hands, O Lord, and now you can do what you like.'"

As if two bouts with cancer weren't enough to try and defeat Enid, about 15 years ago she faced the challenge of ovarian cancer, resulting in a hysterectomy.

Then, on a Sunday sometime around 2008, she experienced sudden and excruciating pain in her stomach.

"It was worse than having youngsters," she recalled. Again, within days, she underwent surgery, this time for punctured bowels, perhaps caused by a chicken bone. She was 80.

"We thought we were finished," her husband said.

Last year, as if to add insult to injury, Enid faced head-on her fourth battle with cancer. She was operated on for bowel cancer.

"You're the luckiest woman in Newfoundland," her doctor told her. "There's no other cancer in your body that we can detect." She didn't require a colostomy, radiation or chemotherapy.

"This was almost impossible to believe," John says. "It's a miracle to me."

A good attitude

Enid's quartet of cancer battles have taught her some valuable lessons. First, a cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence.

"I believe God is always there to do something if you believe in him," she stated.

John added, "part of the therapy is your attitude. A lot of people give up and say, 'This is it.' But that's not the way to look at it." He noted "the success stories" are rarely told.

A second lesson is to submit regularly to medical examination, Enid said, especially if there's a history of cancer in the family.

"I tell everybody I speak to, 'Don't let it go. Make sure you go and have an examination,'" Enid said.

A final lesson is Enid's conviction that God placed her on earth for a specific reason - to reach out in love to others who are facing crises. Her caring attitude has garnered the attention of several organizations.

In 2002, she was awarded the Golden Jubilee Medal, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne. In 2006, Enid was awarded the Governor General's Caring Canadian Award, in recognition of her "outstanding and selfless contribution" to her community and to Canada.

She also sold more than $50,000 worth of cookbooks to raise funds for the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Centre.

Suporting worthy causes

Gerry Benson, former district secretary and chief executive officer of the Newfoundland and Labrador district of the Canadian Bible Society, called the Barretts "a wonderful Christian couple."

He recalled the time Enid "was collecting for the Bible Society when lightening struck the steeple of her church."

Enid is known far and near, Benson added, for making and selling "crafts for various charities, and is always ready to collect for worthy causes."

Without a doubt, charity work is where Enid shines brilliantly.

"I love to go and help because I've had so much help myself," she noted with a tear in her eye and a catch in her throat, but a song in her heart.

"It does a lot for me."

She bakes bread and Christmas cakes to give away. She distributes her homemade Angels of Hope to cancer patients. She knits a variety of goods a mile-a-minute, again to give away.

Rewind to the cancer patient at the start of this story. Some weeks after Enid gave her an Angel of Hope, she received a phone call from the woman.

"When you put your arms around me," she confessed, "I had a healing feeling. I went back to the cancer centre, and now my lung (has] a clean bill of health."

Enid's reaction? Typically modest: "It's something I got to do."


• Age - 83

• Hometown — Upper Island Cove

• Resides — Bishop's Cove

• Family — married John Barrett, 83, of Bishop's Cove. They have two sons, one daughter, seven grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

• Hobbies/interests — charity work; organist at Anglican churches at Bryant's Cove and Bishop's Cove; crafts; knitting.