When Championing A Cause Size Doesn't Matter
They say it takes no longer than a blink of an eye to “size” up another person. At nearly four-feet, five-inches tall, Barbara Flink, 63, has endured her share of snap judgements. However, it doesn’t take long to discover that what Flink may lack in stature she makes up tenfold in personality and wit.
“I’m not married and I don’t have children, but I have dated all seven dwarfs,” she introduces herself, with a wry smile followed by a big belly laugh.
She goes on to explain that she was born with Turner syndrome, a genetic condition that can cause a number of medical issues, including less than average height.
Despite life's hurdles, as a child Flink went on to excel both academically and socially. And in spite of the ribbing she receieved at school and on the playground, Flink learned to turn the table on her adversaries.
“It was a given — I was going to be noticed,” shares Flink, a native of Miami Beach, Florida. “I decided at about 12 years old that I would catch my classmates off guard with a dose of self-deprecating jokes of my own. I began to use humor to work through my insecurities. Besides, I’m an entertainer at heart — I’ve always found satisfaction in amusing others.”
The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Flink says she comes from a long line of jokesters. Growing-up, her father and brother were always at the ready with a funny one-liner.
“No matter my size I had to compete to be just as clever,” says Flink, who after earning a bachelor’s degree in education went on to receive a master’s degree in computer science from Villanova University.
As she transitioned to the workplace, Flink continued to address the "elephant in the room" with a combination of humor and an ever increasing air of confidence. As she advanced in her career she was forced to make several major moves, finally landing in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she is employed as a senior business application software developer with BMC, a national building materials holding company.
For the most part settled in what some would call a humdrum existence of work and home, three years ago, on her 60th birthday, Flink received news that turned her life upside down. After a routine physical complete with blood work, Flink learned she had chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), a type of blood cancer for which there is no cure.
“It definitely wasn’t the birthday gift I was looking for,” quips Flink, furrowing her eyebrows just enough to emphasize her displeasure. “But seriously — what’s surprising to me is that at the time I was diagnosed I felt fine — no fatigue, night sweats or weight loss — symptoms that usually accompany a diagnosis of CLL. I just would not have suspected I was anything but healthy.”
Because Flink did not experience any typical symptoms at the time of her diagnosis, her oncologist opted for a watch and wait treatment strategy.
Then, earlier this year, Flink came down with a couple of respiratory infections. She says her health went “downhill from there.” Her oncologist had since moved, and Flink was now receiving care from Duke cell therapy and hematologic malignancies specialist Danielle Brander, MD. In May, Brander put Flink on ibrutinib, a non-chemo drug shown to decrease the risk of death more dramatically than the standard chemotherapy protocol.
“Today I take a pill once a day,” she says. “So far, so good. For the past two months, my white cell count has been in the normal range. I’ll remain on this course of therapy until it doesn’t work anymore. Hopefully, when that happens science will have made possible other options to treat my cancer.”
Having attended every Turner Syndrome Society conference every year for 30 years, Flink has been an advocate most of her adult life. It seemed natural then that when she was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, she would team up with The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS), largest nonprofit supporting the fight against her disease.
“I’m grateful for the support provided by LLS,” says Flink, who after her diagnosis discovered BMC sponsors The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s annual walk, Light The Night. “The society is one of the largest funders of cutting-edge blood cancer research. For me, that means breakthrough research that might lead to a cure for CLL.”
Flink will step out Nov. 3 with her company’s fundraising team, Team BMC, to participate in the 2018 Light The Night walk. To date, BMC has raised more than $17,000 toward its $50,000 goal.
“It’s good to know that even before I was diagnosed with leukemia, BMC was all-in,” says Flink, a broad smile of satisfaction crossing her face. “I look forward to getting out there with my co-workers, knowing that what we are doing can make a difference for so many battling CLL, including me.”
The 2018 Triangle Light The Night will be held on Saturday, Nov. 3, at Booth Amphitheatre in Cary, North Carolina. To learn more or to join or donate to Flink, visit Barbara Flink. To donate to or join Team Duke Cancer Institute, led by Danielle Brander, MD, visit Team DCI.