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My early stages of child development started with a lot of “conditioning” as I like to call it. As I have progressed in my life, I have come to believe that everything that happens is a part of developing us for a specific mission, or “purpose” that we have in our lives ahead. Although I did enjoy a wonderful life as a child, there were also experiences that changed my views about life, and all the things I believed about God, family, who I was and why I was here.
By the time I was 13 years old, I had been in the hospital 13 times and had 9 operations. It seemed like I was in the hospital for everything. I had a hernia at the age of 2, a broken collarbone around the age of 3 or 4, an amputation at 8, kidney surgery at 9, a broken hip at 10, and then I broke that same hip again when I was 13. When I was going through it, I thought I was a surgery waiting to happen. But as I look back at those stages of child development, every one of those experiences became a part of the fiber that carried me through some of the toughest times in my life, and prepared me for what I am doing now.
I was too young to remember some of the earlier illnesses, so my memories of hospitals and a new found determination started when I was 8 years old with the loss of my leg.
To have a better understanding of me, you need to know that growing up where and when I did, there was a strong push towards God and religion. I was raised as a “Christian” and was a regular attendee of the family church. We were a “God-fearing” people who believed in Jesus Christ, Heaven, and Hell. We believed in the power of prayer, and “divine punishment” for committing sins. As a child, I can remember feeling safe and at home in that environment. There was this certainty that my family had about God and all of his promises. Our life was very much centered around “church and family.”
I was 5 years old when I began singing in church and discovered what would become a lifelong passion for music and performing. Singing and being in front of people came naturally for me, and I loved it. I was getting all this amazing attention. But even more importantly, was the sense that I was singing for God. For a child being raised in such a religious community, there was no bigger honor. I was truly living the storybook life of God and Family. But that storybook life wouldn’t last much longer.
I was 8 years old when my mother noticed a swelling in my left leg that was very abnormal. I still remember that night vividly. I can see her carrying me into the kitchen, setting me on the chair and asking me what had happened. I can still remember the peach color of the bathroom wall, the green and white kitchen tiles on the floor. I can even see the lighting of the room that came from the small circular fluorescent bulb in the small kitchen. I also remember that I was scared and didn’t have an answer.
About a month earlier I had been skiing behind our house and had fallen. I can remember the pain as I ended up laying with my head facing down the hill; it was a pain so severe that I lay in the snow for what seemed to be an eternity. But I was a kid, more than that; I was a boy looking to be the man of my household. So I did what I envisioned a warrior would do, I got up and “walked it off”. As time passed over the next month, my leg started to become weak and give out from time to time. I would be out riding snowmobiles in the mountains, and walking into the house my leg would buckle under me and I would lose my balance. I just thought I had been riding too long. I convinced myself that my leg had fallen asleep and I needed to readjust my pace. I convinced myself that everything was fine.
To this day, no one knows why, but somewhere in that period of time, I had developed a form of bone cancer called osteogenic sarcoma. The next thing I remember as I look back at that period of my life, is coming into the family store with x-rays of my leg and the local doctor holding them up to the light to show my mother and I an abnormality in the lower half of my leg.
It was another moment that I remember it vividly. There was a very noticeable change in shades of gray from the healthy bone to the cancerous area. My mother, uncle Jack and I were at the family store when Dr Crisanti arrived. There was a look on his face that I had never seen on anyone before. He was this tender old man who loved our family and visited our store often. I can remember the intensity that showed in his brow as he held the x-ray up to the fluorescent light above him. He was standing there with his head tilted back; his eyes looking over his glasses. My uncle was standing behind the counter, and my mom.... just holding me. I believe he was the first person who ever actually mentioned the word, “cancer”. I didn’t know what it was, I was 8 years old; but I could see everyone’s expressions change.
There was a feeling in that room I had never felt before, I couldn’t describe it, or understand it. But it was a feeling that made the world seem to stop in its tracks. From that moment on, my life got crazy. It was a constant whirlwind. I started making trips to different hospitals and doctors. There were the tests, and x-rays, the private consultations that the doctors would have with my mother where they would send me out to the waiting room to read so they could discuss things between the “grown-ups”. I was young, but I knew that I was no longer a “child”. I was growing up quickly.
I wish that I could look now at all the processes I was going through internally at that time. It would be amazing to be able to see those stages of child development and know exactly was happening to my emotions and perceptions as all the new information I was getting almost daily, started to have its impact on me. As I look back now, it seems like I grew from 8 to 18 in a matter of weeks. New beliefs, new ideals, new values and new questions formed daily. And those beliefs, ideas and questions, as you would expect, set me into a new direction in life.
December 16th 1973. They had done exploratory surgery that day to see if the tumor was operable. The way that my mother remembers it, was that when I awoke from the surgery I asked if there were 2 bandages or one. Even at 8 years old, I already knew what was going on. The doctor had told me in one of our “pep talks” that if I had 2 bandages when I came out of surgery… that would mean they were able to save my leg. Two bandages would mean that they had taken part of bone from my hip to replace the cancerous bone they were hoping to remove from my shin. And if I only had one bandage, it meant that the cancer had progressed to a point where they could not save it. She tells me that I began to cry and faded back into sleep. I can’t even fathom what all must have run through my mind in that moment. I was 8 years old and realizing that my life was going to dramatically change.
I remember thinking that never again would I be running through the fields with the wind blowing on my face and through my hair. I saw an end coming to the endless days of chasing my puppy up and down the hills that surrounded our home. What about the other kids? What would they think? How were they going to look at me? What about girls? Who would love someone with Cancer? Who would love someone who was “broken”? What about football, baseball and all the other sports I loved so much? And what about God? What did God feel about me now?
As I mentioned earlier, my family was very religious. We went to church every Sunday and had Bible study meetings at our house. God fearing people we were. But questions started to flood my mind. I started wondering, what had I done that was so bad that I made God this angry? I was only 8 years old, things like this only happened so God could punish people. What had I done that had been so “wrong”? I started looking at my future. All I could focus on was thinking about having to do twice as much to be the same as others, and having people pitying me all the time. I laid in the hospital wondering what I did that was so bad that God punished me like that; these were my perceptions. My head spun out of control.
I was staring at the doorway when the doctor walked into the room later that same night to give me the results from the biopsy. I can still remember the moment he opened it. He walked in and said. “We have the results from your biopsy”. There wasn’t even a second that passed before I said. “I know. You’re going to have to cut my leg off”. Imagine… this was the perception of an 8-year-old child.
He looked at me quietly, nodded his head, said he was sorry and walked out. Sorry? What a simple word. What exactly was sorry going to do? I remember hearing my mother crying, but I never looked at her. Somewhere between my waking up from surgery when I learned that I only had one bandage, and that moment when the doctor arrived to give me the news, I had became cold and hard.
The name of the hospital was “Divine Providence”. It was a Catholic hospital and there was a crucifix on the wall by the door. I stared at that symbol of my faith for what seemed like an eternity. That cross, that representation of the God of my youth. There were so many questions I had, my mind swirled, looking for the answers. The biggest question was never to be answered though… and it was a question that took me onto a path of destruction for the next 16 years. The question of “Why?” That was the moment that I rejected the God of my youth.
< Chapter 1:1 Chapter 2:1 >
The Warrior Sage Chapter/Section
Who Is Willard Barth?
Preface - Exploring Strength And Weakness
Chapter 1:1 - The Process Of Self-Awareness
Chapter 1:2 The Stages Of Child Development
Chapter 2:1 - The World Changed Forever
Chapter 2:2 The Vicious Cycle Begins
Chapter 2:3 Losing Faith
Chapter 2:4 My Dark Secret
Chapter 2:5 Where Is the Love?
Chapter 3:1 Seeking Paths Of Acceptance
Chapter 3:2 The Road To Alcohol Dependence
Chapter 3:3 Leaving My Childhood Behind
Chapter 3:4 Escaping Responsibility; The Joy Ride Ends
Chapter 3:5 Living A Duality Begins
Chapter 3:6 Out Of Control
Chapter 3:7 Crossing The Line To Insanity
Chapter 3:8 The Black-out Drinking Begins
Chapter 3:9 Facing The Music
Chapter 3:10 A New Beginning
Chapter 3:11 More Lessons To Learn
Chapter 4:1 The Final Party
Chapter 4:2 A Moment Of Clarity
Chapter 4:3 My New Life Begins
Chapter 4:4 Sober - Time To Face The World
Chapter 4:5 The First Year Of Sobriety
Chapter 4:6 Major Change Comes In Year Two
Chapter 4:7 My Daughter Is Born April 20, 1992
Chapter 5:1 Life Changing Decisions Follow My Daughter's Birth
Chapter 5:2 Recognizing The Voice Inside
Chapter 5:3 The Empress Hotel
Chapter 5:4 A New Chapter In My Life Begins
Chapter 6:1 Finding My Way Home
Chapter 6:2 Falling Into Place
Chapter 6:3 A New Awareness
Chapter 6:4 Personal Finances And Personal Development
Chapter 6:5 The George Washington Story
Chapter 6:6 Letting Go So Others Can Grow
Chapter 6:7 The Wrap Up
Jump HOME from Early Stages Of Child Development