Julie Haefner: What I am learning from Breast Cancer

Julie Haefner is a healthy, fit person. She has always taken care of herself physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. It came as a surprise when she received a breast cancer diagnosis in 2022. Click READ MORE and then click here: https://archive.storycorps.org/interviews/julie-haefner-what-i-am-learning-from-breast-cancer/

“I was always getting mammograms, never missed a mammogram since I was 40 and I’m now 55.” While at physical therapy last December, rehabbing her shoulder, she felt something under her arm.

She went to see her OB/GYN, and he told her not to worry, they would look at it in January. “We don’t think it’s anything-we will schedule something in January, enjoy your holiday,” she was told. Her OB/GYN told her he thought it was nothing. He thought it might be scar tissue from her shoulder surgery.

So, she headed to the ultrasound alone.

where she was told it was a 99.9% chance it was breast cancer.

She says, “When you get told that, you sit there stunned. This only happens to people who don’t live health a lifestyles-not me!”

It was advanced: they think it was growing for 2 years. It was noticed, however, no one thought it was anything to think about.

When she went to the breast surgeon, she was told, she was “One of 30% missed”, she was mad and even worse unsure who to be mad at! She was mad at herself, and mad at the medical world.

She was a little mad at her doctor who she had been seeing for 24 years. Calling him, he responded, “You’ve always been my healthy person”.

After an honest, very frank discussion with her OB, she wanted to know why this wasn’t thought of earlier. Why it wasn’t suggested with dense breasts, she needed to be doing something in addition to mammograms.

Dense breasts show up as white on a mammogram as does cancer. “It’s virtually impossible to pick up cancer in dense breasts with a mammogram. And I just wasn’t educated”.

“Had I known I would have been more proactive,” Julie said. And that is one of the reasons she agreed to this interview. To educate others to ASK questions and if they have dense breasts, push your caregiver for more tests-ultrasounds, MRI’s.

My anger started: I don’t understand why my doctor didn’t say, “We’re seeing this pattern, and suggest other screenings.”

Do we know the right questions to ask?

Julie’s suggestions:

ADVOCATE for yourself-mammograms, other screenings! Ask every question you can think of! Talk to other women and have open discussions with your health care providers.

The journey from ultrasound to nurse navigator was quick and Julie noticed the nurse looked panicked. She was told the ultrasound showed lymph node involvement and she would need a “biopsy tomorrow!”

And then…

The BIG Wait…

You wait for results, you wait for the doctor to call, you wait for scans.

Humorously, she laughingly recalls looking at her portal online and googling everything she could.

She received a “confirmed diagnosis”: breast cancer. She would need a lumpectomy, a lymph node removal. Pathology came back and it was more extensive involvement than they thought. They didn’t get the tumor, so she went back in, and they took 10 lymph nodes. Two surgeries later, she went to Puna Cana because, “My son was a high school senior with so much going on and a good distraction and determined NOT to miss anything!”

The day of surgery: “I went to my sons’ final basketball game. I was going-no matter what”.

With her trademark strength, will and determination which we both recognized, celebrate, and know as moms with every cell in our being, nothing stops us.

We are going to DO this no matter what.

Waiting for pathology to indicate a treatment plan, she ended up doing chemotherapy: 8 weeks of red devil-very difficult but doable. “I worked every day; I walked 5 miles every day and did light cross-training”.

And then 12 weeks of every week chemotherapy followed by 37 rounds radiation.

“I was determined to work, and l determined to live my life. I never let this keep me from doing anything.”

“I went on vacation twice, met my kids in Dallas, attended graduation parties in the St. Louis summer.”

She is Inspirational in so many ways! (if you haven’t listened to the audio interview by now-LISTEN!!!-link above)

“Once I started posting and sharing, so many women began reaching out to me with their diagnosis. I am regularly in touch with a group of 8 women going through treatment now. I hope to become a mentor one day as well.”

I share with them and with everyone, “This is how I did it, I’ve always worked out and eaten well. I was as healthy as I could be going into this diagnosis. I knew I had cancer, but I’m not sick. I feel healthy.”

Before we sat down to interview at 2pm, she had been jogging for 5 miles!

The message I want to get out: “Keep yourself healthy! As healthy as you can.”

And attitude. This can get you just as far.

Going back to her yoga studies, and attending Surrender yoga classes, Julie finds she needs this, too. She has taken her attitude, her yoga learnings, and her inspiration off the mat in order to survive her cancer journey. She is living and thriving.

“I want to show that I’ve been through this. And it’s not all about how I look. I like to hear, “You look like you feel great, or you look like you’re healthy, you’re looking strong, or you look like you’re back to yourself.” In this way, we are able to acknowledge the health challenge someone has been through as well as let them know we are thinking about them.

“Now what?” and “What is this trying to teach me?” are thoughts Julie continues to ask herself. Her journey continues.

Defy Gravity. Expect good. Sparkle on. And… what’s next?

For more StoryCorps interviews, personal narratives, travel blogs and how I empower people to find and use their voice through storytelling as well as information about Whole Brain Thinking, visit my website: https://wilsonmentoringwriting.com/home/

About Pam Wilson

I've been writing since I can remember. At heart, I am a story-teller; making sense of my world, finding humor and light through writing. Now I help clients to write their own stories. As I continue my own writing journey, my passion is to help clients write their own stories.