Fame, fortune, a beautiful family, and thriving career were all part of Barbara Barrie’s reality in the early 1990s. But behind closed doors, the well-known actress was secretly suffering from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). Praying it would cure itself, she would continue acting. In 1994, things suddenly changed during the filming of her mini-series, Scarlet, and Barbara was rushed to the hospital after a spell of dizziness. Upon further testing, she is subsequently diagnosed with rectal cancer.
From there, Barbara experiences a whirlwind of emotions, all while facing the prospects of chemotherapy and colostomy surgery. All at once, she must put her career and her personal life on hold, despite her protests, to become well again. Along for the ride, we experience this rollercoaster with Barbara as she shuffles between doctors, grieves the loss of her rectum and colon, and readjusts to her new life after colostomy surgery.
Barbara deals with the scary reality that her cancer may still be active, and her mind fills with anxieties of more surgery and the grim possibility of death. Through it all, her loving husband Jay and her supportive children, Jane and Aaron, help her every step of the way. She learns that rectal cancer has been dubbed “the family disease” by her relatives and that it claimed the lives of many of her relatives. To her surprise and luck, Barbara discovers that she has a first cousin living with ulcerative colitis and an ileostomy and turns to her for comfort during her period of grief. This cousin tells her about the UOAA (United Ostomy Association, back then) to help her through her first round of radiation treatments.
Barbara takes us through a series of emotions during her ‘firsts’ with a new ostomy: first leak, first trip to the doctor, the first time being intimate, and even first time irrigating her colostomy. In this book, she made sure the reader does not feel alone in their struggle, shamelessly admitting through her series of anecdotes that we have all been there. She even tells the regretful story of her hernia repair shortly after her colostomy surgery. Nevertheless, Barbara was persistent about her return to acting, all while dealing with even more unforeseen health mishaps and handles everything with grace and maturity.
Although it may be dated after its first publication in 1999, Don’t Die of Embarrassment is a truly inspiring story of perseverance in the ugly face of illness. Barbara Barrie’s life has been an eventful one, and we are lucky to be along for the ride for this intimate glimpse into her past. Throughout the story, Barbara comes to terms with her illness and colostomy and learns not to be ashamed of what she has gone through, ultimately leading to being more open about her health. This is a positive message for both new and veteran ostomy patients.
Barbara Barrie is an Academy Award-nominated actress, author, and was nominated for both an Emmy and a Tony during her successful career. Her most notable works are Breaking Away, Barney Miller, NBC’s hit comedy Suddenly Susan. Barbara is retired and currently lives in New York City.