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Breast cancer patient uses writing to share news of diagnosis

Posted on Oct. 23, 2017 ( comments)

Julie Wilson chose a fitting way to share the news of her cancer diagnosis with her students at Glacier View Junior High in Puyallup, where she teaches English.

She wrote about it.

Wilson, now 50, was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer January 2016.

“It came as a complete surprise to me,” she says. “I’d been getting mammograms every year since I turned 40.”

Wilson received treatment at the MultiCare Regional Cancer Center in Puyallup from Michael Harris, MD. Taking the treatment advice of both Dr. Harris and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Wilson is now 100 percent in remission.

After taking an entire semester off from teaching for her treatment, Wilson used a writing assignment to share the news with her students. To demonstrate how a writer can shift the tone of a piece dramatically by moving from general to personal, she wrote about her experience with cancer and used it as an example.

“When you make yourself the most vulnerable, that’s how you connect with your audience,” she says. “And oh man, they reacted. It was a turning point in terms of my classroom instruction and what they know about me. It opened the door for them to write something personal and meaningful.”

Here is Wilson’s piece:

What everyone knows about cancer is that it is a chronic disease that takes many peoples’ lives. There are many forms of cancer and sometimes it is the treatment not the disease itself that most challenges the patient’s quality of life. Most people have been touched by cancer in one way or another, a grandparent, a parent, a sibling, a neighbor, a teacher, a friend. Everyone knows that cancer does not discriminate. It swallows people without regard to ethnicity, finances, gender or age. When most people observe a bald woman in public, they assume she must be in the middle of chemotherapy and may even be close to taking her last breath. Most people recognize the pink ribbon logo as the symbol for breast cancer awareness and the concerted efforts made by scientists everywhere to finally finding a cure.

What I know is that it is easy to live life as if the next day is guaranteed. It is easy to live as if life stretches on indefinitely with decades and decades of graceful aging and an easy, soft landing in one’s recliner. I know cancer changes and challenges that assumption. That chemotherapy is something that one endures and emerges on the other side wondering if it really happened…a bit scared and definitely changed. I know prescription drugs are sometimes necessary. I know how quickly life can change. How some things cannot be planned, controlled, or orchestrated.

I know how easy it is to assume good health
I know how sneaky breast cancer can be
I know armpit pain should not be ignored.

I know fear of waiting to lose my hair
I know picking out a wig
I know impending, building bad news
I know vulnerability
                                                sadness
                                                                        loneliness and fear.

I know getting a port
I know chemo
I know fatigue
I know taking pills…endless pills
I know daily shots
                                    and insomnia.

I know the comfort of homemade blankets
And the kindness of health care workers
I know the luxurious feel of coconut oil body rubs
I know the fortune of paid sick days
I know the value of health care premiums.

I know the significance of relationships and connections with people
the importance of a caring husband
and selfless sisters
the generosity of friends and family.

I know cancer.

Julie Wilson Come Walk With Me team
This year, instead of a birthday party, Wilson asked her close friends to either donate or walk with her at Come Walk With Me, an annual breast cancer fundraising walk that benefits breast health programs at MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital. Wilson raised about $1,500 and walked with a team of 17. You can still donate to the cause.

Posted in: Cancer | Women's Health

About The Author

Roxanne Cooke

Roxanne Cooke tells stories in words, photos and video.

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