About Julie and Cancer Teacher
MY FIRST YOU-HAVE-CANCER
When my dermatologist called me in September, 2010, I cheerfully answered the phone, “HELLLLO, Dr. Thompson, how are you?” I didn’t understand yet – it’s rarely good news when doctors call you after a biopsy.
The melanoma was in my calf, so large it took three surgeries to remove it. The final scar was 8 inches long and deeper than I anticipated. I hobbled around New York City on a cane, deeply depressed with very dark thoughts. I didn’t tell anyone I was sick. I hated appearing weak, less than perfect. I kept up the farce by sending out upbeat missives promoting my work as a cooking teacher, nutritionist, and newly published author. When I saw colleagues and friends, they were shocked – at the cane, the melanoma, and how unhappy I appeared.
My “public me” was doing AMAZING. The “real me” was broke, overweight, scared, alone, and miserable.
The further apart my reality was from my public persona, the worse I felt.
The couch and I became one that winter as I ate my way through the chocolate section at CVS. One night, I saw a friend bravely posting her cancer experience on Facebook. Everyone was cheering her on. I thought: Nobody is judging her. Why would I hide that I had melanoma? As I crumpled up 15 Lindor wrappers, I promised myself that if I got sick again, I was going to tell EVERYONE, no shame, no pretending.
Sadly, it was only three years later, shortly after moving to San Diego that I had to honor that promise.
THE TRIPLE DIAGNOSIS
In late 2013, when they found a cancerous colon polyp, I immediately shared the news on Facebook. I explained that my family has Lynch Syndrome which puts us at high risk for colon cancer and many other cancers. When I had a PET scan and they found large masses in both my ovaries, my Facebook family was there for me. When I entered UCSD for surgery – terrified out of my mind – on March 14, 2014, I had hundreds of people rooting for me. They removed my ovaries, uterus and most of my colon. I had Stage II or III Ovarian Cancer (they didn’t remove lymph nodes to stage it), early stage Endometrial Cancer and lost most of my colon. After two hellish weeks in the hospital, I went home to prepare for 18 weeks of chemotherapy.
My second cancer journey was underway but this time, I was sharing and writing my way through it.
THE LEAP OF FAITH
In the beginning, I was terrified to share I had colon cancer. Such an embarrassing organ! Poop, gas, bloating, diarrhea! I stood over my computer, nervous what my accomplished peers would think. But a promise is a promise. I pushed the POST button, slammed the computer shut and didn’t open it for hours.
When I finally got the nerve to look, I started to cry.
Dozens of comments cheering me on, sending me love, kindness, support, and strength. After that first post, I became braver, sharing photos of me in my hospital bed, no make-up, gastric tube down my nose, shaving my head, all of it.
When I share something challenging, a lot of the shame and pain disappears – and the healing begins.
Putting my truth out there is very cathartic – it helps me process the trauma. Cancer can cause what feels like PTSD. But as one survivor said, it really should be called OTSD, Ongoing Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s never REALLY over – cancer screenings can trigger anxiety attacks, complications from chemo and surgery can last for years. I’m grateful that mainstream medicine saved my life but have been frustrated that I haven’t received more support to regain my health – and sanity.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
THE PLAN TO HEAL MYSELF
When I was 17 years old, living in my hometown of Seattle, I was diagnosed with a severe case of Ulcerative Colitis and was dependent on prednisone for 9 years. Doctors told me I’d be sick “forever.” I scrutinized medical journals, met with alternative practitioners, experimented with food, and tried all kinds of treatments. It took 5 years and master’s degree in nutrition – but I healed it.
Even though I have a lot of experience as a professional and a patient from the last two decades, I’m STILL mastering how to handle the cancer experience.
It makes it lot less overwhelming when I’m not doing it alone.
Sharing my stories here with you – managing the emotional struggles, dealing with fatigue and dehydration, living with a short-bowel, eating a restricted diet, adjusting to instant menopause, dealing with our broken medical system – makes me feel more like an explorer reporting back from a dashing trip abroad than a depressed medical patient suffering alone. (Ok, I’m more likely a mad scientist muttering around a lab but let a girl dream.)
Even though the doctors say I have a terrible prognosis – four cancers by 42 and all that – I plan on improving my quality of life and defying the odds again. We’ll be learning from Cancer Teacher together, you and me, how to heal the mind, body, and spirit from cancer trauma.
Scary as hell to launch this site. But I’m doing it anyway.
I can do this. You can do this. We can do this together.