About

A Little More About My Story…

I’ve had a bit of a bumpy road getting to where I am now, but I’m delighted to say I am the happiest I’ve ever been and I’m filled with a renewed sense of purpose and drive to pursue my dreams. I’ve debated sharing this, as much of it I’ve kept to myself for a long time and it can be pretty scary putting it all out there for people to read. What made me decide to share this with you? Well, I decided I wanted my blog to be a true representation of who I am. And I know that without these challenging experiences I wouldn’t be this person I am now. So to me, it only makes sense to share with you the experiences that have lead me to where and who I now am. Let me tell you a bit more about my story.

As a kid I’d always been really athletic and thin, and I grew up participating in several sports including dance and swimming, but most notably horseback riding. When I started high school and puberty caught up with me I gained some weight. At first it didn’t bother me, but eventually I began comparing myself to others and feeling insecure and uncomfortable in my own skin. This led to me developing an eating disorder when I was 16, as well as depression. I struggled with this for about two years, before being placed on antidepressants.

kidding around
Taking the captains seat on my pony “Champie”

Just as things were starting to look up, in February 2006 I got the shock of a life time. Let me rewind a bit here… I’d been having pain in my throat and gradually losing voice for about two years prior to this time. Though I’d visited the doctor many times as I knew something was wrong, it wasn’t until my condition became very serious that I was sent to see a specialist. I was 18 at this time and I went to see the ENT specialist Dr. Kevin Fung at Victoria Hospital in London, Ontario. After a CT scan and some extremely unpleasant biopsies, I was told that I had stage IV laryngeal cancer. A large malignant tumor had engulfed my voice box and the surrounding tissue, and if I didn’t get it removed soon, I was going to die in a few months! Being that I was so young and had never smoked, I’m sure you can imagine my shock (and horror) upon learning this news.

On March 2nd 2006 the tumor, along with my voice box, thyroid, and surround lymph nodes were permanently removed. While I recovered quickly from the surgery, after that came the worst part of all: six weeks of radiation treatment and three aggressive rounds of chemo. I could hardly eat even though I was starving, and was incredibly nauseous and violently ill following chemo. The radiation treatment caused burns inside my throat and mouth as well as outside on my neck. Fortunately, as it turns out I’m pretty darn resilient, so I survived.

Physically I recovered quickly, but emotionally and psychologically I was just getting started. After treatments and the dust settled and life began to go back to normal – whatever that was now – I fell to pieces. A part of me was literally missing, I only had a tiny whisper for a voice (and still do), and I didn’t know who I was anymore, or what I’d do with my life. For several years after this whole ordeal I remained a very depressed and anxious person, filled with anger. I saw the world as a cruel and unfair place and I had little hope for the future. Some days I remember wishing that I’d simply died so I didn’t have to go through this pain that consumed me; now I feel guilty having ever felt that way because I know I am so fortunate to be alive. Some days I came very close to giving up, but thank goodness for my stubborn and tenacious side, because it kept me going.

Fast forward a few years and I was starting to find my path. I’d met several wonderful people along the way, made new amazing friends, and in September 2011 I started at Brescia University College (an affiliate of Western University), which turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. Here I met many wonderful people, and best of all was inspired and encouraged to pursue my interests. I pursued my undergraduate honors degree in Psychology, learned of my love for research, and graduated in June 2014.

DSC_0060
Undergrad Graduation In June 2014

Immediately after this I began pursing my master of science degree in Behavioural and Cognitive Neuroscience at Western University, which I completed in Fall 2016. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do after this. I had several ideas and plans and directions worth contemplating. However, I am a firm believe that life has a way of putting us on the path we are meant to be on and that certain people come into our lives for a reason.

After finishing my masters degree I stumbled onto the field of psychosocial oncology (PSO), which essentially addresses the psychological, social, and emotional aspects of cancer from diagnosis, through treatment, and survivorship. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard about this sooner! I quickly dove in (as I often do) and immersed myself in the literature, and getting involved with key organizations such as the Canadian Association for Psychosocial Oncology (CAPO). After learning of an upcoming CAPO conference in Vancouver in May 2017, I decided to register and go! This turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. It was at the CAPO conference that I met Dr. Fiona Schulte, a brilliant researcher and clinical psychologist at the University of Calgary who specializes in pediatric and adolescent and young adult (AYA) PSO. After chatting more we found that our research interests aligned closely and that we would make an extraordinary team with her as my supervisor. In June 2017 I applied to the PhD. program in Medical Science at the University of Calgary, and by July  2017 I was driving half-way across Canada with my cat and my life packed into my car, ready to start a new and exciting adventure in Calgary!

So, it seems I have come full circle. First a cancer patient, then a survivor, navigating my own cancer journey, and now a psychosocial oncology researcher. It has been over a decade since my diagnosis, treatment, and the challenges that followed. I feel a sense of pride for overcoming many obstacles, and gratitude for having had the opportunity to do so. But, I am acutely aware of the need to continue to grow and to achieve my goals. For many years I wondered why I had survived cancer and what my purpose in life was; now I understand. I firmly believe that the reason I survived and endured such challenges was to prepare me for the opportunity to help others through the cancer journey.

Though we often do not get to decide what happens to use in life, we always have the opportunity to choose how we decide to respond to our circumstances. A quote that I love and which has become something of my mantra reads: “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become” – Carl Jung.

I’m grateful that you’ve decided to join me on my journey and I hope you enjoy the thoughts and experiences I’ll be sharing with you! 🙂

XO Julie

 

 

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6 thoughts on “About

  1. Frank Brick

    Julie,

    I was very touched by your story. Thank you so much for sharing. Each us have a plan for our lives from God. Sometimes we just don’t understand why, but our plans are very similar.

    I am also a Laryngectomee. My cancer showed up at the age of 63 after successfully running four technology companies as CEO. I used my voice to communicate the mission, strategy and to lead four very successful companies and then retired. A few months later unable to speak and coughing up blood went to the ENT and the rest is history. My surgery was in July of 2012, a real life changer. I have been cancer free now for almost 4 years after 3 surgeries with both Chemo and Radiation treatments.

    I got my calling only a few months after my surgery and knew that I was to spend the rest of my life helping others make it through their recovery as painlessly as possible. I do volunteer voice coaching, helping Lary’s make it through the process of learning to voice again. I am also the President of the New Voices Club of Austin, Texas. We now have 18 members, 9 Lary’s and 9 caregivers. I have found that the faster a patient can voice, the faster they come out of depression.

    I am also the happiest that I have ever been. Better rewards than I ever had running a company.
    I also have a mantra, “Try to make a difference in someone’s life TODAY”.

    Thanks again and God Bless all us Laryngectomee’s……

    Frank Brick
    President-New Voices Club of Austin
    “Try to make a Difference
    In Someone’s Life Today”!!
    fbrick@austin.rr.com
    512 626 4936 cell phone

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    1. Hi Frank,

      Thank you for also sharing your story with me and for your kind words. I truly appreciate it! It’s always wonderful to connect with other laryngectomee’s. I am so glad to hear you are now cancer free and have been able to use your experience to help others to regain their voice – that’s such a powerful gift. Wishing you all the best and please keep in touch! 🙂

      Julie

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  2. Wow, Julie! You mentioned feeling a little scared putting your thoughts out there, but what you felt makes so much sense to me, even as someone who hasn’t been there. Congrats on finding your way after such a life-changing experience. That takes a lot of inner strength.

    And, I love that you think big and outside the box!

    My family went on a cruise this summer out of Vancouver, and, oh, my goodness, do I agree with your description!!! We were there for only a few hours, but loved Stanley Park. I look forward to going back!

    Like

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words and support, Anne! It means a lot to me. Isn’t BC fantastic! If you and your family have the opportunity to go to BC again I highly recommend checking out Ucluelet and Tofino; they’re some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been! Wishing you all the best 🙂

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