After her diagnosis, Julie re-examined her life and discovered new things about others and herself along the way. Read more on one fighter's journey in finding purpose.
I found out I had colon cancer two days before Thanksgiving. I was 32, married, and the mother of two amazing boys. It was supposed to be a time of giving thanks and enjoying time with my family but I couldn't do that. All I could think about were those four words, hearing them over and over again in my head, "Julie, you have cancer".
Looking back, I realize how much I had always put everyone first, especially my then-husband and my children. The first person I called wasn't my family, my closest friends, not even my husband. It was my mother-in-law. I made that call because I was more worried about my husband and wanted to ensure he had support during this time. Not myself.
Things happened in a blur. Two weeks after my diagnosis, I had surgery to have a permanent ileostomy. I began chemo a month later. After surgery my family came and helped with my two boys. The rest I did alone. I attended all my chemo treatments and medical appointments alone. I needed to. For once I realized I needed to take care of myself, put myself first, push aside the mommy and wife guilt, and begin focusing on me. It was during this time that I started to feel like me again. I had always been an independent, fun, and strong-willed person. But after years of a rough marriage, I had forgotten who I was. I had lost pieces of myself.
During my cancer, my husband was emotionally cheating and possibly physically. Whether he did or not isn't important anymore. It was a tough time for everyone and while others were looking elsewhere for comfort, I looked at myself. I needed to be the "old Julie". I needed to be strong and get through this for myself and my children. Physically I was weak, exhausted and beaten — surgery and chemo had done a number on my body. But mentally I was growing stronger. I began to think about my future and my current life and I knew I needed to end my marriage. I needed to laugh, smile, and be happy again. Each day I was still here fighting I knew was an opportunity to change things and begin enjoying my life.
I could be a better mom and person. I needed to make the most of what time I might have left with my sons. I wanted to enjoy every moment, cherish every minute, and begin making memories that would live on even if I didn't. Cancer gave me the strength to be me again.
People often apologize and tell me how sorry they are to hear I had cancer. I'm not. I am grateful for having cancer. It came at a time I needed to make changes in my life and it gave me the perspective and nudge to make those changes. I know that my ex wasn't a terrible man but he was selfish. When my oldest was five, there were lies I had discovered and I should have left then. He asked me to stay and I did, after convincing myself it was for my son. I felt trapped. I felt I had to stay unhappy and deal with everything for the sake of everyone's happiness, everyone but myself. I had grown bitter and resentful through the years. I realize that now, thanks to cancer.
Cancer, thank you for giving me the courage to be a better mom, for giving me the strength to make tough decisions, for making me appreciate all the little things I was too busy missing, and for making me realize how much more my children and I deserved. Because of you, my children are so much happier, I have found a man and love that I didn't know could exist. Most importantly, I found me again. I laugh, smile, appreciate, and love life. So thank you cancer, I will forever be grateful.