Julie Brown: don’t put off mammograms; take care of yourself

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It was two years ago, now.

Julie Brown of Moorefield went to her doctor with an unrelated issue; and while there, the physician asked her a simple question.

“She looked at me and said, ‘You’re due for a mammogram, you need to have your check ups,” Julie recalled. “She said, ‘you need to have your check ups, how long has it been?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, I missed last year, I think. I guess it’s been a couple of years.”

Julie said that her doctor then set her up with an appointment for a mammogram – and that was a moment that would become providence for Julie.

“They found something suspicious, and I went back for two or three biopsies,” Julie said. “The day I found out -I knew.”

Julie remembers that her granddaughter had just had surgery on her wrist, and she had just brought her home from the hospital and everyone was sitting in the living room when Julie’s phone rang.

“I got the phone call from the surgeon, and she said, ‘I need to see you’,” she recalled. “I said, ‘well, it’s not going to happen today. I just brought my granddaughter home and she’s laying here on the couch’. She said, ‘then you’re going to be here in the morning’. It was the way she said it.”

From that moment forward, Julie knew she was in a fight, but she never, ever, lost hope or feared the worst.

“I’m a high strung individual, and I worry intensely about my children and my grandchildren,” Julie said. “I was never scared. I knew everything was going to be okay. I never cried. I never lost it. I told my son that day when he looked at me, was that I was going to go down and talk to her tomorrow, and it’s going to be fine.”

Julie said that the hardest part of the whole ordeal was telling her family and friends.

“I think, especially my mom, they look at me like I’m invincible,” she said. “I’ve never had any really serious health problems; and I knew that telling them was going to be rough; and when I did -it was. My kids were kind of freaked out; my grandkids immediately heard the word ‘cancer’ and thought I was going to die.”

And she still needed to tell her friends – a tightly knit group of women that are intensely loyal to each other.

So how did she handle that? Julie threw a party.

“I’m famous for my girl parties,” she smiled. “I invite my closest friends and they spend the night with me; and we just have a ball. It was on a Wednesday when I found out, and I called them and said, ‘Hey! I’m having a girl party Friday night’. They all dropped what they were doing, and they all came over. They had no idea.”

Telling them was emotional, but again Julie was the one who wouldn’t allow too many tears and bad thoughts, because everyone was there to have a good time – and she never wavered that she was going to be fine.

She credits the staff at the Madison Cancer Center (“They were fabulous to me”); and her husband, Doug, who she says stepped up for whatever she needed.

“I was lucky,” she says. “The cancer that I had was very aggressive and recurrent, that’s what she said. This cancer maybe 10 years ago would have automatically resulted in a mastectomy, and quite possible, death; because it grows so fast you can’t catch it. It doesn’t manifest in a lump, so self examination would have never found anything.”

What followed was 33 radiation treatments, and – in true Julie Brown style – she says that she made some fabulous friends in the process; from nurses and doctors who oversaw her treatments to others who were also undergoing treatment that she formed a bond with.

“I take them sweets now when I go in for my examinations,” she laughs. “We’re all Facebook friends. I love these people. When you see somebody for 33 treatments, and you get to know these people. They become your family; they become your friends. Seeing other people go through things, I realized just how lucky I was. It wasn’t horrible, it was an eye opener for me.”

Two years out from treatment, Julie is a big advocate for women to make those mammogram appointments and stay on top of their exams. She is an advocate that what you don’t know, might just kill you.”

“I know women in this community, they’ve kept it to themselves,” she said. “It is, it’s a private thing and you don’t want all of this attention and you don’t want people feeling sorry for you. What I found out from all of this is that I had more faith than I ever knew that I had, because that’s all I can attribute this to….I knew God was going to take care of me.”

She wants other women to know that she understands that ‘life’ can get in the way of staying current with exams, from family to work to other activities – but that every woman needs to understand that having a yearly check up is not something to be afraid of; and it’s not something to put off for another year – because time does go by quickly.

“The thing that I want to make a point of, is that there is absolutely no family history on either side of breast cancer, so it was never even in my consciousness,” Julie said. “I’d always go for my exams, but then I got lax. The kids came to live with us and I got busy. My other friends were the ones that I was concerned about, because their mothers had had breast cancer. Everyone needs to make sure to take care of themselves, too. Don’t assume that it isn’t going to happen to you. Be brave. Make your appointment and go get checked. Get your mammogram – get them every year. I’m living proof that missing one year can make a big difference.”