Being a teenager can be the absolute worst. Kids will pick on one another for anything and everything they can think of, just to boost their own self-esteem. Add on the stress of school and growing responsibilities, as well as a changing body, and one’s teen years can be pretty traumatic.
It’s hard to imagine what high school was like for Dareen Barbar, who had her life turned upside down when she was just 15 years old. Yet instead of giving up in her darkest days, she did something completely surprising…
Featured Photo Credit: Dareen Barbar @ Youtube
A Country Divided
Dareen Barbar was born in the midst of civil war in Lebanon in 1978. She grew up surrounded by people who were terrified and had to hide from bombs, constantly trying to avoid conflict.
Finally, in 1991, the fighting in Lebanon came to an end after so many years. Dareen was now 13 years old and had high hopes that she would grow up in a country free from hatred and persecution. She felt she could rest easy knowing the danger was over…
Then, just two years later, tragedy struck Dareen’s life yet again. Up until then, she was a strong, fit girl who played a variety of sports and had no health problems. But when she was 15 she began experiencing chronic and unexplainable pain in her legs.
She knew that it was pain unlike any muscle ache or broken bone she had ever felt, so she sought a doctor’s help. Nothing could have prepared her for the terrible diagnosis she would receive. She had osteosarcoma, a very aggressive form of bone cancer…
She’s Just 15
“Can you imagine yourself at 15? You are talking to your girlfriends about parties and boys and clothes and going out,” Dareen said to The National. “It was a time when I was obsessed about basketball.”
More Bad News
“Then, suddenly, you find yourself in [a] hospital, surrounded with IVs and doctors,” she continued. “It was a bit of a crisis for me.” Worst news was yet to come. The osteogenic sarcoma, which often strikes in the teenage years, was so advanced that her leg needed to be amputated…
Above The Knee
“I was 15 at the time and went through seven months of chemotherapy before doctors decided to amputate my left leg above the knee,” Dareen wrote on Shape.com. She was heartbroken and terrified at the same time. Why did life have to be so hard for her?
Tough Teen Years
“The country was just starting to rebuild itself then, so there weren’t many health care facilities for normal people, let alone for those of us with disabilities,” Dareen continued. “My teenage years were tough—to say the least.” Still, the amputation surgery was a success and she was now cancer-free…
Supported by her family and friends, the teenager tried her best to move on and accept her life post-surgery, but adjusting to life with one leg would prove to be difficult. “It was hard to face a perfection-driven society. People looked at you, pitied you,” Dareen wrote.
“They had sympathy but they think to be attractive is to be perfect and have certain looks,” she added. In Lebanon, women are faced with a great deal of pressure to be “perfect” and adjust their looks with plastic surgery. Life was tough with her new prosthesis, but eventually, it got better…
No More Gym
Dareen’s loved ones refused to let her give up on herself and motivated her to be happy, even if she had to come to terms with never being fit again. “I exercised lightly, walking and doing some ab workouts, but it never even occurred to me to step into a gym,” she said.
Happy Ever After?
A major turning came when she met a man named Ramzi Gholmieh and fell in love. Ramzi worked in Dubai and could provide a happier life for her there. So Dareen made the move and the couple married. In no time, she was now a happy mother of two little ones…
The Black Dog
At least, that’s the way things appeared. After falling back under the thin veil of depression, Dareen stopped taking care of herself through her 20s and early 30s, focusing more on her family’s needs than her own. Her poor health became obvious in 2013.
More Bad Luck
Dareen’s bad luck struck again when she had a bad accident in the kitchen while doing dishes and broke her hip – the same hip as her amputated leg. She was going to need to completely turn her life around if she was going to get back to her previous mobility….
Wake Up Call
“That’s what really woke me up. It was like someone slapped me in the face and said, “What are you doing?” I had let my body get so weak that standing and washing dishes had become difficult. I knew something had to change,” she wrote on Shape.com.
At first, Dareen started to take it slow with a few minutes walking on the treadmill. Exercising did something incredible to the 36-year-old mother. Soon she was jogging with her prosthetic and before she knew it, she was starting classes for CrossFit and aerial yoga…
“When I wasn’t doing that, I was swimming, doing jujitsu—determined to do whatever it took to feel strong again,” Dareen said. She even signed up for a local 4k marathon. She was committed to getting fit and found out she loved her new, healthier lifestyle.
Dareen had heard about how exercising releases endorphins and discovered firsthand how beneficial that can be for overcoming mental and physical obstacles. And it did wonders for her confidence. “I even started to wear my prosthetic without its cover, a huge deal for me—and it was all because I wasn’t ashamed anymore,” she said.
Today, Dareen strives to help others achieve healthier lifestyles, working as a nutritionist and is a certified fitness coach. She also inspires others through her powerful lectures on overcoming disability. “You can do whatever you want if you put your mind to it. If you trip, get back up and keep on moving forward.”
Inspiration To All
Dareen’s incredible story of beating the odds and loving herself is an inspiration to all: especially those of us who need a little extra help getting to the gym. Since she broke her hip, she’s lost 55 pounds and is healthier than ever before. She’s gone from a fragile teenager to a strong woman in both body and spirit who now empowers people of all shape and size from all over the world.