My friend Julie was diagnosed with stage IV, or metastatic, breast cancer 12 years ago, just after she turned 40 and before her first mammogram. She went through a successful series of treatments that included multiple surgeries and chemotherapy and, in her words, had been getting along quite peacefully with her cancer. She was regularly monitored for more than seven years with no evidence of disease until 2015, when she received the news that the cancer was back – this time in her lungs.
Julie and her medical team pulled out all of the stops to treat what evolved into a very aggressive asshole of a disease. Sadly, her treatment options were exhausted earlier this month. Julie passed away on Friday, June 22.
I was fortunate to spend time with Julie in the hospital before she passed and, as she was visibly winding down, I found myself reflecting on her strength and determination to live her fullest life with stage IV cancer.
I learned a lot from my friendship with Julie.
Metastatic doesn’t mean almost dead.
Have you ever noticed how people use hushed, sorrowful voices when they talk about metastatic cancer? Or make the assumption that metastatic means near death? Julie did not want to be treated like a delicate flower because of her disease. You could count on her to offer a perspective that was inclusive of all stages of cancer, that was more nuanced than the “patient” and “survivor” categories people with cancer are typically slotted into. She envisioned a near future where metastatic breast cancer is managed like other chronic diseases, like diabetes.
Your experience can help others.
Julie was a volunteer heath instructor with Check Your Boobies (now the Rivkin Center’s CanCan Education Program), educating young women on the importance of breast health awareness and early detection. She served on the Cancer Lifeline Board of Directors, sharing her story at the annual luncheon and ensuring the metastatic cancer patient’s perspective was reflected in the organization’s programming, education, and marketing materials.
Help others help you.
As an inspirational leader, talented planner, and quite self-sufficient and capable person, Julie’s natural inclination was to turn down offers of assistance. Her circle of friends were adamant that she not try to do this alone. I think the realization that she was actually helping us cope made her receptive to telling us how we could help her. In true Julie style, she planned out a caring calendar where friends and family could take on transportation, meals, shopping, yard work, and visits.
Julie, my dear, thank you for your inspiration, wisdom, compassion and perspective, and thank you for letting me be a part of your life. I love you.
Learn more about metastatic breast cancer:
3 thoughts on “Julie Hillers: A Life Lived with Purpose”
Lisa, May we post this at Julie’s memorial? Val and Joe H.
I’d be honored! I’ll get a printer-friendly version to you this weekend.
I was a friend of Julie’s at UPS and I just saw that she passed our alumni paper. I didn’t keep in touch over the years, but Julie was a wonderful friend to me in college and I wanted to reach out and tell you how much she meant to me. There were many days where she kept me sane and helped me with our math homework – she was so brilliant. I’m so sorry for your loss. I wish that I had kept in touch. Sharon Crowson (now Bellusci)