It’s the night before my birthday. I’ve been feeling all the feels about getting to have another birthday, another road-trip around the sun, all day today. This one will be my 52nd. But I’d like to take 5 before I hit the gas, hit the road, chase the sunset. Cuz ever since 3 years ago today, on another day before my birthday, I got other feels that I just gotta repect. Feels that make me feel like taking a knee, to remember, to honor, my friend/doppelganger/breast cancer sister/fellow aerodynamic runner/SCAR girl Barbie Ritzco aka Marathon Barbie aka Gunnery Sergeant Barbara Ritzco, USMC.
I don’t know if she’s resting in peace or not cuz I imagine the SCAR girl reunion in heaven is still a bit lit since Barbie got there 3 years ago today. Still. Damn, I miss her like hell down here. And even though she’s still with me in spirit… or maybe it’s phantom pain, like sometimes how I feel something in my boobs that aren’t there anymore. The price of love. The proof. Of love. A beauty mark that she was here. Etched in me. Like a #WWBD? carved into, our outta, my soul. Maybe that old saying “you can’t take anything with you” is #fakenews. Cuz it sure feels like she took a part of me with her. I like that thought. The beauty mark she left on me, was also a piece of me she took with her. #partinggifts
So #WWBD? What. Would. Barbie. Do? That is the question I ruminate today, the day before my birthday, as I remember her.
Last month, I was happy, honored, and humbled to help bring David Jay’s Unknown Soldier Project to Cincinnati. One of the superpower most special parts of this exhibit, for me, besides getting the old SCAR Cincy crew together, was seeing my friend Barbie’s SCAR portrait on exhibit with The Unknown Soldier Project for the first time. Though to me, it felt more like: Finally.
On the surface, Gunnery Sergeant Barbara Ritzco’s portrait might seem to be a rather “unusual deployment” in The Unknown Soldier exhibition. Her amputation is not like the other amputations in the exhibit. Her IED was breast cancer to the chest. Her amputation was the collateral damage. Her battle with breast cancer was her unusual deployment, and one she would always say was the hardest one because it took her away from the men who served under her. Reluctantly, though, as she watched the lump grow on her chest, trying to will it away so as not to leave her brothers behind. And in the end, she laid down her life for her brothers all the same. Barbie died a couple weeks before her 40th birthday. She died planning her 20th year retirement party (with her sister who had enlisted with her). Which ended up being her sister’s retirement party and Barbie’s celebration of life. And we are proud to see her The SCAR Project portrait rightfully in this band of brothers and sisters. The following is Barbie’s The SCAR Project bio, in her own words, written shortly after her diagnosis at 36.
“Training didn’t prepare me. A weapon, a FLAK jacket and a Kevlar helmet didn’t protect from THIS enemy. 18 years active duty. Two combat deployments. I was diagnosed with Stage IIIB Breast Cancer, after only four months in Afghanistan.
Perseverance, endurance, determination. Things that have been taught to me and instilled in me. Giving up or giving in is not an option. I have skydived, surfed, swam, cycled and completed about 15 Marathons since my diagnosis.
I didn’t set out to accomplish all these things with any real purpose. I needed to remain active for my own sanity and dignity. Adapt and overcome. I am adapting to my new life with Breast Cancer and using it as my motivation to keep moving forward. I have been led, unarmed, to a different battlefield, in a different fight, one that is uncertain, unpredicted, and currently undefeated.
I am not going to ever get over Breast Cancer or move past it. I will live with it for the rest of my life. Remission is not a cure. I don’t believe people actually “see” Breast Cancer. They hear about it but they don’t listen. It is a terrible thing that happens to everyone else but could never happen to them. Everyone needs to understand and visually see the realness of this disease. Breast Cancer takes no prisoners. It can take anyone at any time.
The SCAR Project has allowed me to uniquely express myself and showcase how Breast Cancer has broken me down and stripped me of every feminine indicator yet I fight, unprotected, unarmed, and unwavering… but most importantly, unashamed.”
Click HERE to read Barbie’s SCAR story in her own words on The SCAR Project Blog.
Click HERE to see footage of Barbie sharing her SCAR story at The SCAR Toronto Exhibition in 2014.
Click HERE to see footage of Barbie’s SCAR portrait hanging with her band of brothers at The Unknown Soldier Exhibit in Cincinnati last month.