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Glee Club sings for sick senior

Kathy Lee | Friday, April 8, 2005

One Notre Dame Glee Club member’s struggle with cancer has led to mobilization and unity for the entire group.

It began with a “splitting headache” in early November of 2004 that kept Coleman Barker sick all day. Barker, a senior pre-med/philosophy major, assumed he had the flu, and University Health Services gave him medicine to take the nausea away. However, even after a week, Barker’s headache persisted.

The second time he went to University Health Services, no doctors were on call. He was forced to go to St. Joseph Medical Center. Concerned that his headache had lasted a week, the doctors decided to perform a CT scan.

Barker, who led an overall healthy lifestyle, said his initial reaction to the diagnosis was nothing short of a surprise.

“I was really shocked,” he said.

The shock came when doctors told him they had discovered a tumor in his brain that needed to be surgically removed. The neurosurgeon at St. Joseph Medical Center told Barker he would need to withdraw from classes and receive immediate treatment.

Barker called his parents, who had already heard of the tumor from his doctors, and decided he would return home to his family in Sioux City, Iowa and choose a clinic for surgery. Barker then went through the tedious process of receiving signatures for withdrawal from his classes at Notre Dame.

An active member of the Notre Dame Glee Club, Barker also had to leave the club. After learning of his cancer, the 60-voice club decided to dedicate their 2004-2005 season to Barker by wearing a turtle pin on their tuxedos for concerts in his honor.

Barker said none of his friends at Notre Dame let him down. As he packed up his belongings for the move back home, they came to his aid.

“People were great,” Barker said. “I got lots of hugs, and they were all helping me get ready to go home.”

Upon returning to Sioux City, he met with doctors and discussed the best options for his operation.

On Nov. 18, Barker underwent surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. The doctors effectively removed an 8×6 centimeter cancerous tumor from his right frontal lobe and declared the surgery a success without any complications. Soon after, Barker began receiving chemotherapy at the Mayo Clinic. In December, he went home for Christmas, returning to the Clinic Nov. 27 for radiation treatment.

Finally, on Feb. 5, 2005, after six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Barker went back to Sioux City. Since then, he has been undergoing more chemotherapy and resting at home.

After he completes chemotherapy treatments in Michigan City, Ind. in August, Barker hopes to reenroll at Notre Dame in the fall to graduate in the spring of 2006.

Acknowledging Barker’s importance to the Notre Dame Glee Club, many members have agreed his being diagnosed with a cancer has made a huge impact on this school year. Several Glee Club members visited Barker and have been supporting him through his surgery and treatment. Glee Club Treasurer Thomas Richardson said he noticed how anxious Barker was to return to Notre Dame.

“The only thing he really wanted to do was come back to school after it was over,” Thomas said, “so I really hope everything works out for him.”

Glee Club members have constantly voiced their support and respect for Barker.

“Cole is, arguably, the nicest guy anyone will ever know,” member Adrian Chiu said, adding he hopes Barker will be able to return to his “normal life” after his treatments.

Paul Sifuentes, Glee Club President, said he believes Barker will not return to that normal life but rather will use the events of the past few months in a positive way.

“Cole will use this experience to help others,” Sifuentes said. “He has a way of reaching to other people in a humble way that amazes me.”

To be in solidarity with Barker, many Glee Club members have chosen to shave their heads for the “Brothers in Song” benefit concert Sunday.

Barker will arrive on campus today to meet with several University administrators and to attend the Glee Club’s benefit concert on Sunday.

On April 10, at 7:30 p.m., the Notre Dame Glee Club will be performing a benefit concert entitled ‘Brothers in Song: Coleman Barker Benefit Concert’ in the Leighton Concert Hall of the DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts to aid the Barker family. Additional proceeds in excess of the Barker family’s needs will go to the American Cancer Society, a group chosen by Barker. An American Cancer Society representative will be present at the concert with additional information on cancer education. The Glee Club hopes to make $10,000 from the concert by selling ads in the program, tickets sold and receiving extra donations from concertgoers. Tickets for the benefit are $5 for students and seniors and $10 for general admission and can be purchased by calling the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center at 631-2800.