‘Y’oung survivors

Julie, riding the bull at one of our conferences.

If you know me or have read my blog for any length of time, you know I’m part of an amazing community of young survivors of breast cancer. I found these ladies when I was desperately searching for more information about breast cancer just a few short weeks after being diagnosed in 2006. With my first lumpectomy failing, I finally stopped for a moment to ask, “am I doing the right thing?” I was searching fruitlessly online for answers, when I suddenly decided to enter “young breast cancer.”

The rest is history.

From there, I found this community of women diagnosed under 40 who were able to help me ask the right questions and find the answers, whether good or bad. Until then, I hadn’t met one survivor with a 4-year-old child, none that were even thinking about their fertility — most didn’t have it — when going through treatment, and not one person worried about whether she see her child grow up. Until then, every woman I had met was gray, mostly well-insured and surrounded by women who understood what she was going through. I didn’t have that until I found my tribe.

Julie, at left, with some of our tribe. Me at right.

One of the first women I met was Julie. She was diagnosed around the same time as me and, therefore, was going through a similar cycle of chemo, surgeries, medications, etc. Along with several others, we were a band of sorts, a “chemo class.” Julie, actually, was ahead of the class by just a couple of months, so she became a mentor of sorts.

She was the sweetest person you can imagine. I ran into her by surprise at a conference, after having only met her in person once before. She was in treatment for a recurrence and I didn’t recognize her right away, until she flashed her smile! Then, I knew it was sweet Julie! We sat and talked for a while. She was so freaking positive about her recurrence. I wanted to scream for her, but she seemed to shrug it off. She had no choice but to survive.

I’ve known a lot of people who have died. I know a lot of people who are dealing with first and second occurrences, myself included. I know so many young women with children who have stage IV breast cancer. So, I don’t say this lightly: Julie was the strongest freaking person I’ve ever met. There is a lot of talk around cancer about being “strong” or “a fighter” or “a warrior.” I generally eschew that language. But Julie was absolutely a warrior until the end.

A couple of months ago, when the cancer seemed like it might win, she wrote to her young survivor sisters and asked us a favor: when she passed, she wanted us to send pink roses to her funeral from each of us. And she wanted us to tell her young daughters how important they were to her.

Julie died this week and her funeral was yesterday. There were more than 120 pink roses from her young survivor sisters all across the country.

Some of the flowers. Thank you for organizing this, Melinda!

Author: rosie

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