One day early in 2010, newlyweds Ignacio Cabezas and Barbara Castro Garcia were sitting in a café eating breakfast. The couple both had smiles on their faces that, in the words of Ignacio, were “impossible to erase.”
After 11 years of dating, the couple had gotten married several months before, and now they had just found out they were expecting their first child.
“We were crazy about getting married and once married, we wanted very much to be parents,” Ignacio remembers.
Little did they know that this pregnancy, which had already brought them so much joy, was also the beginning of a saga that would test their faith to the limit — and ultimately take the life of the young mother.
Four months into the pregnancy, Barbara took a trip to the dentist complaining of a sore in her mouth. The dentist sent her on to a specialist, who on July 15, 2010, diagnosed her with mouth cancer.
The couple was presented with a conundrum: Barbara urgently needed life-saving treatment, but the treatment had the potential to harm their unborn child.
Bolstered by her Catholic faith, Barbara, who worked as a journalist in the communications office of the Catholic diocese of Cordoba, made the difficult decision to forego all treatments except for a surgical procedure that left her in immense pain.
But Ignacio says that throughout the ordeal, Barbara remained strong. “My wife said from the beginning that our daughter would be born the day that God wanted, not one day earlier,” he says.
A statement on the diocese of Cordoba’s website remembers Barbara’s faith at this time: “Anchored in the heart of Christ, the inexhaustible source of love, Barbara opted first for the life of her daughter,” the diocese says. “At all times she has maintained an unwavering faith, and has been the encouragement and hope for all who have surrounded her during this long and painful illness.”
Their child, Barbarita, was born just over two years ago on November 1, 2010 — a healthy baby and the source of much consolation to the couple.
But within days, the pains of Barbara’s cancer were flaring up, and the couple went to Madrid to see a surgeon.
The news wasn’t good. The surgeon told Barbara that there was little hope, and that he was amazed she had even survived as long as she had. Thus began the grueling rounds of chemotherapy and other treatments that left her without a tongue and part of her jaw, rendering her incapable of speaking or eating. She had to be fed through a tube.
Ultimately the cancer would get the upper hand, and on July 4, Barbara died, after having sacrificed everything for her child.
The Spanish publication La Gaceta reports that it spoke to Ignacio the day after Barbara’s death, and that he seemed “serene.”
He told the paper that he felt “a strength of faith that I had never felt before.”
“I feel invincible,” he said. “God is holding on to me and he doesn’t want to let me go.”
In part of a letter from Ignacio to his wife, quoted by La Gaceta, Ignacio wrote: “I sensed we were going to suffer a lot, that it would be very hard and probably very long, but I also assured you that, no matter how hard it was, afterwards I would make sure you were the happiest person in the world, that all the effort was worth it, that we would enjoy our daughter and that we would have to prepare ourselves for an uncertain and horrible period.”
The statement on the Cordoba diocese’s website concludes: “The Good Father, Lord of Charity, who embraced [Barbara] tenderly in her lifetime, today opened the doors of Paradise. The angels have come to her and the Blessed Virgin gave her the crown of victory, because she, better than anyone, knows what it takes to give her life for love.”
Ignacio said that Barbara gave her life out of love “for her daughter, for me and for God,” and that he wants to now “honor her as she deserves.”
“We will win, my love, we will win! Now we have to face the most difficult part: finding meaning to everything that has happened,” he wrote.
The story of Barbara’s heroism closely parallels that of Chiara Corbella, an Italian woman who also died this summer after foregoing cancer treatment to save the life of her unborn baby.