“My Voice” by Julie Blackman

Julie Blackman - 'Survivor'

My name is Julie Blackman. I just turned 37 years old May 23, 2009 and  I am a Stage 2A Breast Cancer survivor. I have just finished my last radiation a few weeks ago and will start my Tomoxifin treatments soon and will have to take them for five years after that. I always had this belief that things like breast cancer didn’t happen to women under the age of 40; I was so wrong. It wasn’t until I worked for a bra store that I started hearing more statistics on this. No one wants to hear their doctor say those words: “You have cancer”. I learned so much about having cancer at 36. I learned things that I did wrong and things that I did right. A few famous words that I can recite are: “You are your own advocate”. What the statement means to me is only you know how you feel. Things can happen to you that you may question; it could be a lump or a bad pain. When you realize that something might be wrong and feels different in your body than it should, that is the time to get yourself checked out. If you don’t like what the first doctor says, you can always get a second opinion.

I am going to share my experience to help others so that they can gain more knowledge and not feel so overwhelmed. I am also going to attempt to help others find more ways to make their cancer diagnosis a little easier to deal with. I know first hand that is hard to do. I first felt a lump in July of 2008. I did the right thing and went right to my Doctor to have him feel it and let me know his thoughts.  If you feel a lump, you probably will have all sorts of thoughts running through your head.  It might be nothing, which we all hope is true. It is always a possibility that it is something though. Obviously, I was hoping that it wasn’t anything.

I remember sitting on toilet with the cover down and crying after feeling my lump. I felt like something was wrong. I always noticed my breast was lumpy.  It was then in September of 2006 that I felt a lump on my left breast. I had a a mammogram and an ultrasound done. They found two micro-calcifications on my right breast. I was shocked. The Doctor told me come back in six months. I did and went back in six months. Then in September of 2007, I was told that my mammogram was fine and to come back in four years. I just didn’t think about it anymore. They wanted me to come back when I was 40 and most Doctors don’t do a base mammogram until you are 40 anyway.

I never thought that micro-calcification could be a sign of cancer. I wasn’t good at being my own advocate. I wasn’t educated in knowing the real facts. If I had taken it upon myself, I would have asked for a breast MRI to make sure my micro-calcification wasn’t much more than they were letting me know. In September of 2008, I had to have a lumpectomy done. I had one lymph node that had cancer and  then found out a few weeks later that I was in Stage 2A of Breast Cancer. I ended up having to have six rounds of chemo every three weeks with three different chemo drugs each time. I had no idea how bad the side effects were going to be. I lost my hair three weeks later and had severe nausea as well as bad sores in my mouth. I was feeling sick for days after my treatments. After all of that, I ended up having to have 33 radiation treatments as well. All of this has made me exhausted.
Having cancer has made a huge impact in my life. I know what being a survivor  means to me. Being a survivor is so much more than beating cancer, it’s how you feel inside and what you gain from that experience. I feel happy that I completed all of my treatments except for my upcoming Tomoxifin regiment. This is truly a huge accomplishment for me. Dealing with all those harsh treatments is not easy. I feel lucky that I saved my own life when I found the lump at an early stage. I feel lucky to be alive to enjoy all of the greatness that life has to offer. Being a survivor makes me want to help others. I am going to look at life differently from now on. I am going to enjoy doing more things, like taking a walk in the park. I am going to find more ways to heal my body and soul. I am going to take one day at a time. I am going to keep up with my follow-up tests and appointments. I just feel so alive inside. I know now that I can put the word ‘Survivor’ to its true meaning and context.