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Teen battles cancer with a smile

Teen battles cancer with a smile
Lisa Barnett, with her daughter Emily, 16, who has lost her hair after 5 of 6 rounds of chemotherapy to battle brain cancer, sit in their Burbank home.
(Tim Berger / Staff Photographer)

It started with headaches and exhaustion. Then, in October, straight-A student Emily Barnett began falling asleep during class at Burroughs High School, and on a couple of occasions, she didn’t make it to campus at all.

By Thanksgiving, her mother, Lisa Barnett, was worried enough to push for a CAT scan, which revealed a cancerous brain tumor.

“It was all up and down her spine,” Lisa Barnett said.

The discovery set in motion an agonizing treatment regimen that began on Dec. 8 with brain surgery at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. It continued with 31 chemotherapy and radiation treatments over six weeks and the harvesting of stem cells for possible future bone marrow transplant.


Her mother and father alternated shifts at the hospital.

Emily, 16, has now completed the fifth of six cycles of maintenance chemotherapy and faces extensive rehabilitation. She will continue to be tutored at home at least through the first semester of the coming academic year.

Still, with the support of friends and church members, as well as complete strangers, members of the Barnett family have managed to keep their spirits high.

“It has been everything,” said Lisa Barnett, who works at the local Trader Joe’s grocery store.


“I couldn’t have made it without the support of friends and family. People have been amazing. People would put things on our porch. Around Christmas time they would put gift cards in our mailbox. It was all out of love and service.”

On Tuesday, the community will extend its support once again, hosting a benefit concert at the Elks Lodge in Burbank with all proceeds going back to the Barnetts.

“I could never imagine this would happen to her and then before you know it, it was happening,” said 16-year-old Taylor Austin, a close friend who will perform Tuesday.

“She has just been amazing, and kept her sense of humor. She is always happy, and very strong and faithful. I admire that about her.”

The last eight months have included a few bright spots for Emily. During her illness she discovered a passion for art, and now aspires to a career as a cake decorator.

“I wanted to be a brain surgeon. Now I don’t want to do anything that has to do with hospitals, I am tired of them,” she deadpanned.

And then there was the special visitor to Children’s Hospital.

“Seal came to visit me at the hospital,” Emily said of the famous singer. “He was telling us his life story. Then he asked, ‘Are there any questions? Emily, I know you want to ask me a question, I can see it.’”


She asked him about his facial scars, which Seal explained were caused by the autoimmune disease lupus.

A photo of the star and the Burbank teenager ended up on the Children’s Hospital website, where it stayed for months.


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