Julie Safely


 Treatment: Lumpectomy, Chemotherapy, Radiation

Every year, as the New Year’s holiday approaches, each female in my family selects a word that represents something they wish to achieve or emulate during the upcoming 365 days. This past year I chose “courage,” and at the time didn’t realize just how much courage I would need in the months ahead.

On June 21, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and my life changed forever. I was a single 30-year-old with no family history of breast cancer, and no warning signs, or so I thought. But from February through May, I had a lump near my sternum and assumed I had torn a muscle while lifting weights. I didn’t associate it with breast cancer because it was not in the breast area.

When I went to my doctor for a routine appointment, I pointed it out to her. It is important to note that I pointed it out after she had completed a traditional breast exam, which did not include the chest area above the sternum. Within a week I was scheduled for surgery, and I realized just how quickly life can change. What started out as something I assumed could be ‘cured’ became something of greater concern as I learned more about my aggressive type of cancer. And, because of my young age and the location of the cancer, complete surgical removal was not assured.

A storm of emotions
It’s hard to put into words the emotions I had. I felt cheated. I felt I had lived my life well thus far, volunteering my time where needed and working diligently to save money for the future, which I hoped would include children. Now I received news that altered my entire future and possibly determined whether I could ever have children. My entire life savings would now be spent to fight a disease I thought more common in older women.

I have had a lumpectomy and have almost completed dose dense chemotherapy. Recently I began a one-year regimen of Herceptin®, the cutting-edge drug that can increase the life expectancy of people with my type of cancer. Later this year, I will begin extensive radiation treatments. This is necessary because the location of my cancer prohibited getting clear margins through surgery.

The many faces of courage
Courage was the word I selected for 2006 and quickly I learned how significant it would become. I need courage to get through the side effects of treatment and to share my story. I need courage to continue to believe that there will be increased medical advances and funding for young breast cancer patients. I choose courage each day to get out of bed, to hold my head high, to put on my wig and to continue living. Breast cancer does not define me, nor does it overshadow my responsibilities as a school psychologist or in coaching youth. I will use courage to live with and overcome breast cancer.

Still, there are days when I grapple with my condition, grieve for the pain this has caused my family, and struggle with the financial burden of dealing with breast cancer. I rely on courage to guide me through the emotional darkness, and I continue to trust my medical team to help me make the right choices so that I can enjoy a long life.