When Julie had shortness of breath in May of 2020, she thought she had COVID-19. When that turned into chest pains and her heart racing one night, she thought it was a heart attack. She told her wife who quickly called an ambulance.
Halfway to the hospital, all her symptoms mysteriously disappeared. However, the EMT explained to Julie that it was protocol to take her and check her over, so they continued on to a local hospital in Watertown, NY.
After arriving, her vitals were checked and doctors ran numerous blood tests. While everything came back clear, the ER attending physician decided to do a chest CT scan because “crazy things are happening” in 2020. This decision saved her life.
The ER doctor told her that both lung cavities were full of blood clots and that every blood vessel inside both lung cavities had clots in them. She was immediately admitted to figure out what was going on.
Within 12 hours, an abdominal CT scan, a pelvic ultrasound and a transvaginal ultrasound were administered and confirmed the clots were caused by enlarged cysts on both ovaries.
Within 24 hours, a blood test confirmed Julie had ovarian cancer.
Julie couldn’t believe it. She had no history of cancer in her family.
When deciding where to get treatment, health insurance options and opinions from friends and family pointed Julie to Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York. Even though she was receiving treatment in the middle of a pandemic, she never once felt unsafe at Roswell Park due to the staff and safety protocols put in place.
“I know it’s scary as hell, but as soon as I left Roswell, I knew I would be safe.”
While going through treatment, Julie was thinking of ways to bounce back from her diagnosis. As a former athlete, she wanted to do something physical and her doctor told her how important it is to be active.
“I’m totally out of shape and full of steroids and drugs, but asking myself ‘what am I going to do when I’m done with this? What can I do physically to get on the other side?’”
Enter the Empire State Ride.
A challenge awaits
The night before her second chemotherapy infusion, Julie was reading a digital newsletter from Roswell Park when she stumbled across an announcement about the upcoming Empire State Ride. She checked out the website, read through the blogs, even watched the documentary on YouTube , and was left speechless – she had to be a part of this.
Julie knew the importance of getting her body moving while still going through treatment and decided participating in the Empire State Ride was the perfect goal.
“Everyone has this idea that when you come out of treatment, you’re a weakling and shouldn’t be doing [active things] to your body.
“So I said, ‘This is a total reality.’ I have a stationary bike in the basement. I’ll just pedal a little bit after chemo.”
That’s exactly what she did. Not only did it feel good to move, it also brought Julie back. A torn ACL from college basketball led her to discover cycling as a great form of exercise. In 1995 when she was 24, she sold her car and did a cross-country trip on her bike. She also did the Bicycle Tour of Colorado in 1997, so the Empire State Ride will be her first weeklong tour in a while. But, she was not only excited about getting back into her passion, but also to find a way to give back to Roswell Park.
“Going through chemotherapy and cancer changes you. When I saw the [ESR] documentary, it brought tears to my eyes. It was the spark I needed to think about what was going to motivate me to get into shape in 2021 after I was finished with my active treatment. Seeing the inspiring stories of the ESR riders who rode for loved ones who they lost due to cancer was gut-wrenching. I thought, ‘What if I could ride in ESR in 2021? How inspiring would that be for riders who lost loved ones due to cancer and what about cancer survivors? What if I could inspire a cancer survivor to ride in the Empire State Ride?’
“A bike tour is a moving social event. You become friends for life with those that you meet. You get to spend time with people on a level that is not possible in today’s crazy-busy world. The feeling I had was that, ‘Yes, I can do #ESR21.”
For Julie, cancer was a wake-up call and she is determined to create what she wants out of life as a cancer survivor.
“Cancer wakes you up. It makes you focus on things you might not have been focused on before, in terms of health. I knew coming through the other side of it, I would be a different person in 2021. I knew training for this would be a huge jumping off point.”