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Figure-skating community rallies to support one of its own

WESLEY CHAPEL

The afternoon sun shimmered off Tampa Bay as she stood at the edge of the water, smiling for the camera.

Lucy Barrett was wearing the flowing white maternity dress and matching jewelry her husband had given her that morning, the last day in April. The 31-year-old former figure skater's long brown hair brushed the top of her 30-week baby bump.

It was not the wedding anniversary she imagined — the one at a nice restaurant or on the beach.

Instead, she was outside Tampa General Hospital with an hour to enjoy a picnic of carry-out food over a table covered with white tablecloth, faux flowers and balloons.

And while she loved it, the compromise was just another consequence of her recently upended life.

Until 12 days before their anniversary, everything for Lucy and her husband, Jeremy — who, with his partner, won the 2010 U.S. pairs championship and competed in the Olympics later that year — was looking up. There were coaching jobs at Florida Hospital Center Ice, a new five-bedroom house in Wesley Chapel, a son on the way and even a new, wild golden retriever named Clover.

But when Lucy was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, that all changed.

After an anniversary picture was snapped, she put on a white surgical mask and walked into the hospital to resume her first round of chemotherapy, light enough not to hurt the baby, she was told.

That didn't work, however, and the family chose to induce labor in order to try something else. Watson, her first son, was born at 33 weeks, weighing 4 pounds 12 ounces.

Two days later, Lucy started aggressive chemotherapy. Eventually, she would lose her long brown hair.

But throughout the experience, she also has found support in the figure-skating community — benefit shows, phone calls from an Olympic gold medalist and donations in the tens of thousands of dollars to help cover medical expenses.

Now, Lucy is on a mission to be better by this winter so she can spend the holidays with her son.

"I just want to be out of hospitals and out of chemo by Christmas," she said. "We don't need to have super-elaborate plans, I just want to be free from hospitals and with my family."

•••

The pregnancy came as another step in a life that couldn't seem to get better.

Lucy and Jeremy, 33, had met as competitors in 2005, but only knew each other casually. When they met again a decade later in April 2015, Jeremy was visiting a rink in Fairfax, Va., where Lucy was coaching. This time they hit it off. After six months of long-distance dating, Lucy moved to Fort Lauderdale, and by April 2016, they were married on the beach there.

Then came the pregnancy. Within 12 weeks, they were posting about it on Facebook.

"We were really excited and looking forward to everything," Lucy said. "We didn't expect the baby to come so soon, but we were so happy it did."

Months later came the problems: extremely swollen feet, nosebleeds and days of so little energy Lucy couldn't move from bed.

Finally, her parents told her to go to an emergency room.

At Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel, blood tests revealed dangerously high white blood cell counts and low hemoglobin levels. Doctors wanted to move her to Tampa General Hospital.

Jeremy was coaching in Fort Lauderdale that weekend. Lucy's parents told him he should come back to Tampa.

He drove through the night, keeping up with Lucy through texts. Fifteen minutes away from the hospital, she started dropping the word "leukemia" in messages. When he walked into her hospital room, her condition shocked him.

"She did not look the same as when I left," Jeremy said. "She looked pale and weak."

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a cancer of immature white blood cells that grow rapidly within bone marrow. Eventually, they can overrun healthy bone marrow cells like weeds, said Dr. Bijal Shah, Lucy's oncologist at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, where she now receives treatment.

Shah said Barrett is meeting all of her benchmarks as doctors utilize chemotherapy, targeted therapy and, eventually, a bone marrow transplant to treat her. And while the long-term survival rate of this cancer is about 50 percent, her early and aggressive treatment has Shah optimistic.

Even in the case of relapse, Moffitt is pioneering new options that are improving outcomes, Shah said.

The day after the diagnosis, Lucy's parents flew to Tampa from Denver while Jeremy's parents drove up from Venice.

Lucy's father, Watson Galleher, has a law practice in Denver, but has since split time between Florida and Colorado to help his daughter.

"It changes your life," Galleher said. "Every perspective you've ever had."

Together with doctors, the family tried to figure out how to treat Lucy without harming the baby.

"More than asking how she was doing, she kept asking how the baby was doing," Jeremy said. "She was more concerned for the baby than for herself."

After light chemotherapy was unsuccessful, the family chose to induce labor so Lucy could pursue more intense treatment.

Doctors induced labor at midnight, and at 10:30 p.m. the next day, May 22, Lucy gave birth to Watson. And while her body was drained from the chemotherapy and delivery, holding Watson in her arms while Jeremy leaned overhead remains one of her happiest moments.

"It was worth it," she said. "Losing all my hair, going through chemo, going through all the crappy stuff. When the little baby came out, he was so perfect."

•••

Solving the pregnancy was only one piece of the equation. In the months since Watson's birth, Lucy has adapted to a new life filled with cancer doctors, insurance issues and round after round of harsh chemotherapy.

It also meant coming to terms with an illness that initially left her shell shocked.

"She didn't really grasp what was happening and that she'd lose all her hair," Jeremy said. "That's when she realized what she had."

Jeremy saw how it hurt her, so he decided to shave his head clean, too.

"It was just a gesture that she wasn't alone," Jeremy said.

Since hearing about Lucy's diagnosis, many, especially in the skating community, have shown their support as well.

A GoFundMe page set up for Lucy's benefit has passed its $30,000 goal, raising nearly $41,000 in three months.

Cards and care packages flooded the hospital and her home — she's collected them all in a big pink bag that sits at the top of her closet.

Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, where Lucy had planned to coach, organized a benefit show for her on June 3.

"The first thing we asked was how can we help them," said Shari Klutz, skating director at the facility.

In a week, the staff organized an event that featured routines by internationally competitive skaters, skating students selling T-shirts to benefit the Barretts and special tributes to encourage Lucy.

"It's funny because it's such a competitive sport and everyone's competing against each other," Lucy said. "But then you get something like this, and everyone realizes there's more (to this) than skating and landing new jumps."

Other skating shows followed in Pembroke Pines and Fort Collins, Colo., raising a total of about $20,000 for the couple. About $10,000 of that was raised in Fort Collins and went directly to the GoFundMe account.

Audrey Weisiger organized the Colorado show alongside a weeklong skating camp she was running. The camp's coaches, which included national, international and Olympic champions, gave performances, attracting a large crowd.

Weisiger said that was good for the campers to see because while the skating world is competitive, the show had a higher purpose.

"You might get stressed out over your double axel, but this girl is fighting for her life," Weisiger said.

As the story spread, it reached some of the sport's biggest celebrities.

"Skating is a small community," said Scott Hamilton, the renowned skater, broadcaster and 1984 Olympic gold medalist.

Whenever Hamilton hears of a fellow skater dealing with cancer, he's always ready to offer advice. He lost a parent to cancer at 18, battled testicular cancer at age 38, overcame pituitary brain tumors in 2004 and 2010 and is "watching" a pituitary brain tumor that arose in 2016.

One of the things he told Lucy was to explore her options and get as many opinions as possible. He also told her it's important to fight cancer with a combination of support.

"Physical, emotional and spiritual," Hamilton said, "You want to make sure you're ready for battle."

He said he believes Lucy has the strength to do that.

"It's a crazy world, cancer," he said. "It wakens you up and allows you to understand how spectacular life is and how worth living it is. But there are still those days where you just don't feel right."

•••

The worst days for Lucy come with chemo.

Every few weeks, she goes to Moffitt, and for a few days at a time she is hooked up to an IV bag sending medication into her body.

The treatment, and the additional pills that come with it, make her feel sick, drained, and she hurts all over her body.

"From every angle, it gets you," she said.

There are other consequences, too, like not being able to hold her 3-month-old baby without rubber gloves. And she and Jeremy have yet to go on their honeymoon.

But the hardest part is still to come.

As soon as she is in remission, Lucy will undergo the bone marrow transplant. And she is close enough that the transplant procedure has been scheduled for Sept. 15. Afterward, she will be isolated, first in the hospital and later in a hotel room, for a total of 100 days to ensure the transplant takes without infection or any other complications.

It also will mean isolation from Watson.

"That's definitely the hardest part," she said. "That's the part that I'm dreading."

While it's a scary reality to face, the promise of what's on the other side is what keeps her going — getting back to her job, going to the gym again, spending time with her family.

"I've never been so excited to have the idea of being normal again," Lucy said. "Just being free of everything, and just being able to live your life without any of the restrictions or setbacks."

She looks forward to when all the noise subsides. When her parents and husband don't have to see her in pain and skating students' mothers aren't needed to baby-sit at a moment's notice. When she doesn't have to worry about medical bills, chemotherapy nausea. When she finally feels like Lucy again.

What she wants most are quiet moments with her family — just her, Jeremy and Watson.

"When it's the three of us, not in pain, not worrying about the cancer," she said, "we can just live in the moment and be our little family."

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