Sara Barnett didn't know it yet, but her nightmare was just beginning. Barnett and her family were living in Joplin, Mo., when a massive tornado ripped through town on May 22. The Barnetts lost everything in the storm and were forced to move in with Barnett's sister in Daphne, Ala.

 

The story so far: Joplin, Mo., resident Sara Barnett and her family survived a massive tornado that ripped through their hometown. But the family's struggle was far from over.

Sara Barnett didn't know it yet, but her nightmare was just beginning.

Barnett and her family were living in Joplin, Mo., when a massive tornado ripped through town on May 22. The Barnetts lost everything in the storm and were forced to move in with Barnett's sister in Daphne, Ala.

Two days after the tornado, the Barnetts boarded a bus for Alabama. They planned to stay in Alabama for a month, then move back to their former hometown of Fallbrook, Calif.

As they rode toward Alabama, Barnett's cell phone rang. Her doctor in Joplin had some alarming news.

Earlier that month, the doctor had removed what appeared to be a fibroid lump from Barnett's left breast. Barnett had no reason to believe anything was wrong, so she wasn't thinking about the results — especially after the tornado.

"We all assumed it was nothing to worry about," she said.

But she was wrong.

The doctor said Barnett had liposarcoma, an extremely rare and aggressive tumor that attacks soft tissue.

That news, combined with the trauma of surviving the Joplin tornado, pushed Barnett over the edge.

"I broke down just with everything that's been going on," she said in a May 26 interview. "I finally lost it."

Barnett said she turned 25 on May 30, and she's scared that she may not see another birthday.

'I know there's help out there'

Barnett's mother, former Dodge City resident Becci Godsey, was visiting Joplin in mid-May to help her daughter recover from surgery.

Then the tornado hit, shattering the Barnetts' world.   

As the storm raged outside the Barnetts' apartment, Godsey huddled beneath a mattress in the bathtub with Barnett and her 2 1/2-year-old son, Aiden Barnett. Barnett's husband, Mike, sat on top of the mattress.

The tornado nearly sucked Mike out of the apartment, but he managed to hang on. Then the ceiling and walls collapsed around him.

The fallen ceiling showered dust and debris on the family, but it kept them from blowing away.

The family survived the storm with only minor bumps and bruises. But when the tornado was over, they realized they had lost everything.

The family had trouble sleeping in the days following the tornado, but they are coping as best they can, Barnett said. But the storm continues to haunt them all, including their son.

"Actually last night here in Alabama, we had thunderstorms," Barnett said. "And he is absolutely terrified now. And he has been waking up throughout the night. He's 2 1/2. Or if a car drives by, he yells, 'I'm coming, wind, OK? Wind? OK?'

"Last night during the thunderstorm, he would not leave our arms."

The family's loss prompted them to move to Alabama, where they are staying with Barnett's sister Johnna and her husband, Raiz.

Then Barnett got the news from her doctor, and her world fell apart again.

She said she's trying to keep her medical insurance through her job in Joplin, and she may be able to hold onto it for another week. But she can't go back to work right now, and the family won't be moving back to Joplin.

"So I'll have to figure that one out," she said. "But I know there's help out there — the American Cancer Society and things like that."

'I still cry'

Barnett said she has to stay strong for her son, but it's hard sometimes when she thinks about her other problems.

"My mind just starts to get pretty heavy," she said. "I still cry — and you're supposed to. I just try not to do it in front of my son."

She said her family's support, coupled with her faith, gives her the strength she needs to keep going.

Barnett's mother, Becci Godsey, said she talks to her daughter several times a day. Godsey also gives Barnett as much information as possible to guide her in making medical decisions.

But Godsey said she believes God is watching out for her daughter.

"Why would God spare her the tornado to let her die of cancer?" Godsey said. "I just feel like he's got a bigger plan for her.

"I don't know whether she's going to survive this and be a spokesperson — something. I just feel like there's a specific plan for her. There's a reason why she came through the tornado to find out that she has this very aggressive, very rare cancer."

How to help

Former Dodge City resident Sara Barnett and her family lost everything in the May 22 tornado that ravaged Joplin, Mo.

How to help: People wishing to help the Barnett family may make donations through the website www.helpafamilyrebuild.com. Click on "Donations."

Contact Eric Swanson at (620) 408-9917 or at eric.swanson@dodgeglobe.com.