2018-09-07 / Community

Community stands behind South Portland officer

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Linda Barker Linda Barker SOUTH PORTLAND – One of the city’s longest-tenured and most respected police officers is in the fight of her life, prompting the community to rise up to support someone who has spent her life serving others.

Officer Linda Barker returned home this past week after a month at the Dana Farber Center in Boston, where she underwent a bone marrow transplant to combat an aggressive form of leukemia. It is her third bout with cancer.

“I’m doing OK, but I’m pretty much quarantined to the house right now because I have no immune system,” Barker said on Tuesday.

Barker’s bone marrow donor was a 30-year-old man from Brazil.

“I do hope to meet him one day and thank him for giving me the gift of life, because that’s really what he’s done. Without him, I would not be here right now,” she said.

Although compromised now, Barker’s immune system was working overtime in February when she went to the emergency room after a month with what she thought was the flu.

Instead, Barker was floored by the results of a routine blood test. The verdict, she says, was a gut punch.

“They said if I had not come in, I would have been dead within a matter of days,” she said.

A cancer diagnosis is, of course, a costly ordeal, and especially so given the month Barker’s husband, retired South Portland Police Detective Reed Barker, spent in Boston to be by his wife’s side. Barker has been out on medical leave since February, but even with insurance, there are costs and medications that are not covered.

And yet, one thing Barker never thought to do was ask for help.

“I’m not the kind of person who likes to put myself out there in that way,” she said. “I don’t like to be in the spotlight. I don’t like to take credit for things, I just like to do them. I just like helping other people. That’s been my whole life.”

Luckily, help came anyway.

For the past six years, city resident Liz Darling has led a holiday toy drive for needy children. Barker has been instrumental in making that annual effort a success, organizing police volunteers to help sort donations and make home deliveries. Knowing well Barker’s modest nature, Darling took it upon herself to create a GoFundMe page to help with medical and household expenses.

“She was almost embarrassed by it, but I said, Linda, you’ve always worked so hard to help others, kids especially. Now, let us help you,” Darling said. “She is a wonderful person. But she’s always worked behind the scenes. So, not a lot of people know what she does.”

The GoFundMe site, dubbed “Linda’s Cancer Curesaders” went live Aug. 29. As of Wednesday morning, Sept. 5, 64 people had given a combined $4,860.

“My husband and I are both terribly grateful and appreciative,” Barker said.

Barker joined the South Portland Police Department in 1981, as just its third female officer. Today, she is the second most senior member of the force.

“Being a police officer, it seemed like a good way to help people, but in maybe a more exciting way than being a social worker like my mother,” Barker said, explaining her early aspirations.

Barker rose through the ranks to detective, but found her true passion as a community resource officer. In that role, she founded the department’s DARE program, and served as the city’s first in-school officer.

“Linda helped me find ways to support families in all kinds of situations,” said Mahoney Middle School Principal Carrie Stilphen. “Students would confide in her as they knew she truly had their best interest in mind.”

“She has a heart of gold,” said Lt. Frank Clark. “She exemplifies the idea that a good police officer is more than a badge and a gun.”

While recovering, Barker continues to work from home as an adjunct professor, but she really wants to get back to her day job as soon as possible. Even after 37 years, she’s never considered retiring.

“I love it. It’s my passion,” she said. “I feel very blessed in that I guess I didn’t realize I’ve impacted that many people. I’m just me being me.”

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