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Meet Julie: Normalcy in the midst of Breast Cancer

28/10/2019

Meet Julie: Normalcy in the midst of Breast Cancer

As women, we're all overcoming something. Unfortunately for many of us, it's breast cancer. 

Meet Julie– ABLE Vice President of Marketing and Sales. In her own words, hear her story about her journey with breast cancer.

 

Breast Cancer Awareness month has a special place in my heart.  Not just because it’s a women’s health issue that directly affects 1 in 8 women, but also because I am a proud and grateful breast cancer survivor.


At ABLE, we celebrate all of the women we have in this amazing organization through our ability to create jobs and empower women to thrive, regardless of what they’ve overcome. 

For me, my story starts 12 years ago, when I was 30 years old. I was one year into my marriage, and we were planning on starting a family.  My journey down this path was fairly traditional– you find a lump, see the doctor, there is testing, and you figure out where you go from there.  What people don’t tell you is the uncertainty and emotional roller coaster that you are immediately forced onto. One you don’t remember signing up for where you can’t find your safety belt.  

Julie with her husband

"What people don’t tell you is the uncertainty and emotional roller coaster that you are immediately forced onto. One you don’t remember signing up for where you can’t find your safety belt."

I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS for short), and estrogen receptor positive, which is a very scientific way of saying, I had a non-invasive breast cancer in a very early stage where the cancer grows in response to estrogen.  I still so distinctly remember hearing and zeroing in on the word “carcinoma” and thinking…” Wait, did he just say “carcinoma”? That’s cancer, right? No, that’s what he said...oh shit, what now?!”  


I’m stunned, in shock, and trying to process. I make my way home, and as soon as I saw my husband, I immediately broke down, barely uttering the word out, and had the ugliest of cries anyone should ever witness. I don’t think my puffy eyes recovered for days, and no amount of product would suffice!  But with anything in life, you rely on those closest to you, and you figure out a plan. And that’s what we did.


That said, the waiting in between steps are beyond excruciating. Not just because I’m impatient...well, I am, but because of how your mind goes wild when you don’t know anything.  You know as well as I do that the internet is as much of a resource for good information as it is to let the inner hypochondriac take over all reality. One day you are feeling really overwhelmed with doubt and your own mortality to the next of channeling your inner She-Ra and you can conquer anything. Like I said earlier– a total roller coaster!  


Following the biopsies and lumpectomy, a treatment path conversation began. At the time, genetic testing for breast cancer was still relatively new...crazy to think considering that most women today have heard of “BRCA1 or BRCA2,” but 12 years ago, I had no clue.  I didn’t know my family history, and I was 30– all of which were no historical risk factors, so I was a good candidate for genetic testing. 


It turned out I did not have either BRCA1 or BRCA2, but having that information as I continued to work with my doctors on the right treatment path was so important.  We aligned to radiation followed by medication. 


While a treatment path was clear, the idea of working was not. There was a fair amount of discussion and debate on what to do. Do I continue to work? Do I adjust my schedule? Do I take a medical leave?  


Work had been so core to who I was as a person– it was how I identified my contribution to the community. I suppose we all fall victim to thinking work is our life. It defines you– especially when you’re a woman with a constant pressure to prove your worth.  This is not a rational or even fair thought, but I did struggle with the question: “What I would be if I didn’t work? Would I simply become defined by cancer?” No. HELL NO. No way will I let this rule my life! 

"What I would be if I didn’t work? Would I simply become defined by cancer?” No. HELL NO. No way will I let this rule my life!"

I had the luxury of being able to continue working, while many do not have that option.  I was very fortunate to have an amazing, supportive boss/mentor that gave me the grace and space to allow me to set my own schedule with flexibility depending on how treatment would affect my energy levels. In retrospect, I think I still needed to have some sense of normalcy with all of the other medical chaos.  


I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t totally immune to the fatigue that finally reared its ugly head the last two weeks of the six week treatment length. With that, it was time to move onto a new medication, one with a recommended length of five years. Because this medication had significant potential to take a serious toll on our near-term plans to start a family, I negotiated with my doctors to see if I could safely shorten that time in hopes that my husband and I could start a family sooner rather than later.


Fast forward to today and I’m forever grateful for my fulfilled and blessed life. I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m still married to that brave, ever-present, caring-beyond-words man that was by my side through it all, and we have have 2 young sons, ages 6 and 3. I share this story with you to help draw attention to how important breast cancer awareness is in your support of all women.  


Let’s face it, we’ve all experienced challenges throughout our life, but it’s the people around us that provide support in loving and unexpected ways that allow us to dig deep and face whatever challenges come our way.  Breast cancer is not just a woman’s issue– it affects those around us in touching and profound ways. As important as it is to know what to look for yourself in terms of self exams, it is equally important that your partner is also educated. 


On average, every 2 minutes, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer.  There are 3.5M breast cancer survivors in the US, and innovation such as genetic testing, new medication, and the like have not only raised awareness and education, but also survival rate improvement.  With that, I’m so proud to share that ABLE will be donating 10% of all purchases between October 28 and 31 to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Fifty dollars funds one hour of research, and we’re hoping to fund one month of research with your help!

  



  • Paula Bloemendaal on

    Thank you for sharing my friend. As you state the research and treatment for breast cancer have improved so much over the years it is unbelievable. We need to continue the fight with more research and early testing.

  • Sonya Irby on

    Julie – thanks for sharing your story of grace under pressure and how you triumphed over this illness. To look at your today, no one would know you have fought and won a battle with breast cancer. Not even me who worked with you for at least 3 years and am hearing this story for the first time. In hindsight, this story is just another example of the strength, tenacity and will to succeed that you bring to every aspect of your life. Kudos to you and much success on the work you are now doing at ABLE.


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