SAN ANTONIO — Maddie Barber has been showing hogs competitively since the eighth grade. But the 17-year-old admits she didn't exactly sign up for pig duty.
A family friend wondered if the Barbers would let them show pigs on their land.
"So my mom's like, 'Oh, you can do it here. My kids will do it with you.' And so we did," Maddie said.
Pigs and livestock competitions weren't foreign to the family. They had just never done it before.
"I did like it immediately. But our first year, we didn't really know what we were doing," Maddie said.
But the investment, especially as a much-needed distraction, was worth the price.
"Our learning curve has been really steep," Travis Barber said.
Maddie was an active volleyball player participating in club sports. In the summer of 2017, a string of migraines, nausea and unexplained falls sent the 12-year-old girl to the hospital.
"Towards the middle of my scan, they put me in the wheelchair and sent me down to the E.R.," she said.
According to Barber, his wife held up better than he did.
"The E.R. doctor said, 'Hey, mom and dad, can I talk to you in the hall for a minute?'" Barber recalled. "And that's not a that's not a request you ever want to hear."
Doctors needed to drain the fluid off her brain. Then, they could get to the golf ball-sized tumor on her brain's stem.
"Then, she had a couple on the top of her brain that were inaccessible," he said.
The family was off to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital because Maddie needed a deeper level of overall care.
"She would need speech therapy and occupational therapy and physical therapy in addition to solving the cancer issue," her father said.
As her Boerne and school community rallied behind a support effort called 'Maddie Strong,' the young cancer patient endured four rounds of chemo and 30 days of radiation.
The hospital stay was what she needed medically. Emotionally, it became challenging.
"Man, it was really hard, like seeing your friends there on Friday," Maddie said. "And they wouldn't be there on Monday because they – yeah."
Maddie came back home cancer-free but still had hills to climb when it came to getting back on her feet.
"She lost some mobility on the right side of her arm and leg and stuff like that, which excluded her from volleyball and things like that," Barber said.
But their friends, the Garcias, could not have asked for a better favor at a more opportune time. The Barbers immersed themselves in learning how to show pigs competitively.
"It could have been sheep. It could have been goats. It could have been cows," Barber said.
According to Maddie's dad, the pigs allowed her to explore a new passion and do something completely different.
The work wasn't easy with feedings in morning and night, brushing and conditioning the animals, and deep-cleaning their stalls.
Maddie stepped up to the plate while doing well academically. Now a junior at Boerne Champion High School, she's a straight-A student whose course load is primarily Advanced Placement classes.
In January, she competed at the Kendall County Junior Livestock Show. She placed second during the competition. When it was time to auction off her swine, the 17-year-old acted on a suggestion she floated past her dad.
"She mentioned it a couple of days before sale," he said. "And I was like, yeah, do whatever you want to."
Maddie wanted to show her swine and donate 100% of the profits to St. Jude. So, she handed a letter to the auctioneer with her request written in bullet points.
"And I asked my dad, 'Is it really ok if I do this?'" she said. "He's like, 'Yes, it's really ok, don't worry.'"
The donations started coming in at $500, $1,000, $4,000 and $5,000. Maddie's father said it's not a room filled with big corporate sponsors. These are neighbors, small businesses, people who invest in the community and support livestock activities.
Halfway through, Maddie's most significant donation came from a family trust: $13,500.
"And that's the point where I dropped my jaw," she said.
Her father said people are still donating to Maddie. The teen plans to send off the check when she's finished her thank you notes.
The support and cancer battle has taught her a valuable lesson.
"I just want everyone to know no one fights alone because you have so many people you don't even know that are rooting for you," she said.
The next stop is the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo. If she places, Maddie is considering a repeat performance.