Creating change from challenge

When Julie Gray felt a hard spot in her breast as she breastfed her two-week-old son, she gave it very little thought. Having breastfed her daughter only a year prior, she assumed it was a blocked duct and quickly forgot about it.

However, as Julie began to wean her son, the hard spot became more distinguishable as a lump and she decided to get it checked. Within two days, she learned she had a pear-sized tumour in her breast. It was Stage 3 locally advanced breast cancer.

Julie quickly began intensive treatment, starting with six cycles of chemotherapy. At the end of the chemotherapy, imaging showed that her tumour had disappeared. However, despite the good news, doctors warned her that undetectable microcellular cancer was still a possibility. They advised Julie to have a mastectomy.

“It was such a tough decision,’ explains Julie. “It was probably one of the most difficult parts of my cancer journey. But ultimately, I realized I was only 41 years old and I had two young children. In the absence of better data, the most prudent action had to be the most risk averse.”

Julie went ahead with the surgery. Once complete, surgical pathology confirmed there was no residual tumour.

Yet, concern about minor remaining cancer in 4 of 9 biopsied lymph nodes prompted another surgery: this time, Julie had an additional 20 lymph nodes removed from her arm pit. The surgical pathology showed all of these nodes to be clear of cancer. However, Julie’s treatment plan still called for five weeks of daily radiation given the initial size of the tumour.

Finally, after 14 months, chemotherapy, two surgeries, radiation and twenty biological drug infusions, Julie was cancer-free.

A mere four weeks after her last radiation appointment, Julie ran the full 5k in the 2016 CIBC Run for the Cure, surrounded by 50 “One Headlight” teammates. Julie had personally recruited most of them, while simultaneously asking for a $500 fundraising commitment from each individual or family. In total, her team raised an astonishing $60,000, with Julie personally responsible for close to $50,000 of that.

“I just told my story as honestly and to as many people as I could,” she says. “The rational side of me recognizes that science, as far as it has come, still has limitations. The only way to keep moving the needle is by investing in research. The compassionate side of me believes so strongly that people going through cancer need support. Supporting the Run accomplishes both.”

Julie will be back again in 2017 to defend her title as the top fundraiser in Canada, and though she plans to beat last year’s total, she is hopeful for some stiff competition. “It would be great if someone surpasses me this year,” she says modestly. “The important part is for more stories to be recognized and heard, because that’s what will keep the fundraising momentum going.”

With CIBC Run for the Cure events taking place across Canada, you can join Julie by participating at an event near you! Click here to learn more or to register now.