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The Thriver: Julie Brumm
JULIE BRUMM
Meet this issue's cancer survivor and thriver, Julie Brumm, who shares her journey through vaginal cancer.

As told to Britt Julious


It was kind of like a blur, from diagnosis to treatment. It was all a blur.

It was going to be a routine hysterectomy. My doctors, they didn’t have any clue. They biopsied my uterus, my cervix, my ovaries, and everything was presumed fine. So when they went to do the hysterectomy, assuming I had a cyst or a fibroid, and found in fact there was a tumor, everybody was shocked. I had vaginal cancer, which less than 1 percent of the population even gets. He didn’t even know how to treat it because nobody gets it.

You think rare and you immediately think death sentence. I asked, “Is it treatable?” He looked at me and said, “Oh, no, it’s curable.” So I always kept that in my mind. They wouldn’t tell me it’s curable if it isn’t curable.

Once I had my PET scan and my MRI, they realized it was in my bladder, so there was talk of a very major surgery, removing my bladder, removing part of my vagina. I had all of my treatment done at Rush [University Medical Center]. They pushed me to get a second opinion, which I did. They collaborated with doctors at UIC and then I spent three days at Mayo Clinic. That’s when everybody agreed the right treatment was chemo and radiation, not surgery, because surgery would have been invasive. I never thought I would have been excited to hear chemo and radiation were my options.

Just because it’s over doesn’t mean I’m over it.

I was in [for] six weeks of chemo and radiation, but I had to do it together. My dad was going through chemo at the same time, so it was really, really hard. I have two kids, one in college and one in high school. I wanted so badly to keep things normal for them, as normal as I could. But now, my kids tell me how far from normal I was and how I was so out of it. As a parent, that kills you. That’s not what I wanted at all.

After treatment, I was relieved it was over and looking forward to getting my life back, but I hadn’t realized it’s never going to be the same. I didn’t realize how many things I would struggle with afterward. Just because it’s over doesn’t mean I’m over it. Right after I finished, my dad passed away from cancer as well. I won, but he didn’t. Why is that fair?

I do feel so much better than I did a year ago, so I can only imagine how I’ll feel a year from now. I love my life and the people in it. I’m grateful I’m here to see it. Even the pandemic, I’m glad I got to see it. I didn’t go through a year of hell with cancer just to get taken out by the coronavirus. I’m not gonna let that happen. That’s always the joke.

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