Julie grew up with breast cancer. Her mother, grandmother, sister and aunts all had it, so she knew her chances were good despite testing negative for BRCA I & II like the other women in her family. They were all also diagnosed pre-menopausal.
Julie began getting screenings for breast cancer every 6 months since she was 18 years old. She also went to Northside Hospital for genetic counseling where she was tested for 57 genes but everything came up negative. Over the years, she had a few fibroidal masses that were negative for cancer.
In June of 2018 she went in for her routine check-up. Julie had a mammogram and ultrasound, and was told everything was fine.
In early November, during a self-exam, her breast just didn’t feel right. “It felt kinda lumpy,” she said. Paying attention to her gut feeling, Julie went back to get checked a month before planned. The radiologist asked her if she smoked because of the “webbing” through her breast. She told her no, never , that she was a huge athlete—she played collegiate sports and was currently an avid tennis player. She broke the news to her that she had Stage II-III breast cancer. She was told she had an aggressive type of HER2 positive cancer, and needed to start chemotherapy right away.
“My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 10 years old, and fought it for 21 years,” remembered Julie. “I felt like I was reliving my youth and It definitely brought back memories.”
Julie wanted to play one last tennis match on Dec. 6 before she began her chemo. “On the last shot of the game, I went for a ball, fell and broke my wrist in 3 places,” recalled Julie. She had surgery on her wrist December 10 and had to delay chemo for 2 more weeks.
Julie, who, at the time, had an 8 and 13-year old, dressed up for the occasion—heels, lipstick and all—for her first round of chemotherapy on Christmas Eve. “I wanted my kids to know I was going to be okay,” she remembered. She had chemo every three weeks on Mondays for several months, and in May had a bilateral mastectomy.
Surgery went well, and she started radiation at the end of June. Unfortunately, Julie had to stop radiation in the middle of her treatment for two weeks to go to Boston and be with her adoring Dad, her hero, who was dying. She finished radiation in August, and just four weeks ago had an additional surgery to loosen scar tissue.
The most important thing Julie tells women is that they must ADVOCATE for themselves.
“No one looks out better for yourself than you. Always follow your gut when it comes to medical attention. If something feels off, it probably is. Fight and be strong for yourself. Have Faith in God, and grant yourself Grace. I am a strong nurturing, compassionate, positive, uplifting person,” said Julie. That and her Catholic Faith brought her through, and in March 2020 she and 18 of her closest family and friends celebrated Julie being cancer free by renting a beach house in Tybee Island for St. Patrick’s Day week.
“Cancer has not broken me, nor stopped me from being the Boston Strong Irish Lady I was raised to be. It has taught me not to sweat the small stuff, enjoy the rainbows we see, be Thankful and Blessed for those that love us, and most of all keep the Faith!! Faith is something far greater than your eyes can see and I believe I will survive and come out the other end a more resilient woman” stated Julie.
During her journey, Julie said the team of doctors and nurses at Northside were incredible—especially in the infusion room. “Chemo is cumulative. When you do your first round, you think it’s not so bad. But by the 4th round, you are dragging. Be gentle to yourself. Keep your eye on the prize-beat cancer,” noted Julie.
“My husband and children walked beside me, in front of me, and behind me through the whole journey. I was fighting to be with them. We were truly blessed to be surrounded by so much love and compassion. Without the constant support from our Amazing Village, we could have never made it through this challenging journey. As I always say, there is no “I” in team and my community reiterated that daily to us. My tennis team even made up shirts that said ‘Julie Strong’ to wear for the season, and they went to the finals,” remarked Julie.
“The week before I started chemo, one of my friends gave me this quote, which touched my heart,” said Julie.
God created a star that would illuminate the world with her brilliance and strength. He carefully made her to shine over everything, filling them with a loving peace as she carefully protected them with her guidance and watchful eye. Her radiance was immeasurable and she brought love to those who were lucky enough to see her. God had big plans for his super star, unbeknownst to her. She thought her role was to light up the world, but it was to light up His. He named her Julie.