For those that have been following Julie’s blog over the years of her cancer journey, I’ve published it in a hardcover book with some additional pictures. You can order it direct from Blurb using the following link: Julie’s Journey Through Cancer I hope that you find it encouraging.

It’s just passed a year since Julie went into hospital and is coming up to a year since Julie died. Julie went into hospital after a fall at the beginning of November and whilst we knew that eventually it would be for the last time, we didn’t think this would be it. She had bounced back from seemingly worse situations previously and so we thought it would happen again. The focus on entering was on rehab for mobility, to get back home. But progress dragged; the pain was excruciating and any movement wiped her out for the day.  After a week we’d had no progress.

In the second week, Claire our palliative doctor, offered to meet with the wider family and discuss the situation. It was here that Claire told us that Julie would not be leaving hospital. Whilst she seemed in good spirits and was sitting up and chatting in bed, there were just too many things going wrong. The cancer load was placing too much strain on her body, the football sized mass in her chest being so large she only had partial function of one lung. There was calcium build-up in her blood and a blood clot in her leg. Fluid in her lungs was not being relieved with antibiotics and her breathing difficulties were getting worse. The fall was not a cause, but rather a symptom of her body finally giving in. She had pushed herself right to the end; having flown to Melbourne to meet with her support group only a few weeks earlier.

On Friday, the day after the meeting with Claire, Julie’s conditioned worsened. She stopped eating and mostly slept waking a few hours in total throughout the day. When the kids arrived after school, we let them know that Julie would die. As part of this, Julie listed the people who would continue to be in their lives and provide the love and mothering that she would no longer be able to. Mothers of friends, aunts, grandmothers, adult nieces; they would step in and do the what Julie could no longer do. Because of her breathing issues, Julie couldn’t let herself cry – unlike us. A friend who had been doing all the running around with the kids whilst Julie was in hospital was there and I’m always emotional remembering her telling Jules that she will be there for the kids and our family; she has been the at the core of our support this year.

Over the next week Julie got progressively worse, sleeping more and more each day. Her sisters and nieces slept over in hospital each night until eventually on the Thursday she didn’t wake all day; it was clear she wasn’t going to be with us much longer. In the evening as I left, my last words  were to go home – there was nothing more for her here. That night she passed away.

Her last blog post before entering hospital was Gemma’s ninth birthday. Last week we had a sleepover for Gemma’s 10th, completing the year of firsts without Julie (though of course firsts without her will continue forever). First Christmas, holidays, birthdays, school events, awards, dance concerts. When the first cancer diagnosis happened, we wanted years more together. As things worsened we wanted months then weeks then days. It is hard to describe how final death is, how abrupt. One of thing things that causes the most sadness is the inability to share these new experiences with her.

That “time heals” is a cliche with an element of truth; it allows the heart to build enough scar tissue so that the rawness of grief is not as overwhelming. For us as a family, new experiences don’t replace the hole left by Julie, they build around the hole, the edges of it becoming less sharp. But every now and again the hole is felt more keenly. There is still an emptiness though; a sense of loss, a feeling that something is missing. However it does become easier to operate day by day with it just hanging in the background.

This year would not have been possible without people who have stepped into our life. As I write this on a Saturday morning, Ethan has been taken to a birthday party with a friend, Gemma has been picked up for a swim with a friend and then her netball game, Annalise will be picked up for netball in a couple of hours by the family of one of her friends. This evening she’s watching a movie with an former student of Julie’s who lives up the road and has continued to be a part of their lives and who gave them their piano lessons this morning whilst I went for a ride.

I asked four people to help out at the beginning of the year between school and when I get home from work on a fortnightly roster, 3 of which had strong relationships with Julie. They have picked up the kids from school, got their homework and piano practice done. They along with extended family have given the kids the stability they need each week and the kids really enjoy being with each of them. Life is hectic but not out of control. Soccer, dancing, netball, music lessons, school band, drama groups, excursions all happen because people reach out and help. This stability has provided the kids with the support they needed to continue to grow and develop. I’m not sure exactly how they do it, but on the day’s I’m in the office they get themselves up, dressed and ready for school, being picked up each morning at 7:30.

There are a number of families that have become very close us to over this year that Julie didn’t really know and I can’t stress enough how important they have been to us and how thankful I am for them. They have blessed us immensely. There has been plenty of really fun and enjoyable times this year – something I wasn’t sure would be the case as the year started.  I’m thankful for those that continue to invite us to hang out with their families.

This will probably be my last update on Julie’s blog; twelve months is a milestone, though I’ve read enough of others experiences to know that things don’t really change with the passing of any particular date – death is not something you get over.  Life will continue to move on, we’ll continue to work at incorporating Julie into our family as we live it.

I’m still looking for stories and memories of Julie from friends and family – thank you for those that have sent some through. Feel free to reach out and catch up – visitors are always nice. I know that there is a grief in Julie’s loss for so many people and sharing stories and memories is helpful in this. The kids like to talk about their Mum, many people feel awkward and shy away from this. They are proud of their Mum and want to share so don’t hesitate to ask questions or tell them stories.

Thank-you for your continued prayers, I’m continually humbled to hear from you about them. We will continue to need them for a long time to come.

God bless

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It’s been nearly six months now and I’ve been meaning to write something on this blog for quite a while to let people know how things have been going.

On the day-to-day front, we’ve made it through our first school term and into our second.  It feels there is a rhythm to life – the kids generally seem settled and the wheels haven’t fallen off.  This is largely due to those that have stepped in to help in so many ways, without whom I wouldn’t have coped.  They help pick up and drop off the kids at school, pick them up for netball practice, music lessons, school band, youth group and dancing.  Whilst work has been very flexible, on the days I’m in the office they look after the kids, helping with homework and getting a meal in the oven.  Mothers reach out and offer to have the kids over during holidays for play dates.  All this has meant that the kids have not had to miss out on the activities things they enjoy.  At times I’m a bit overwhelmed at how much people help our family and struggle to express how grateful I am.

I took time off work from the time Julie died until the kids went back to school.  We spent time away with friends and family and then getting ready for school. Since then we’ve had a few holidays away camping with friends which have been really enjoyable.  The kids have others to play with and it is good for me to spend time with others.  I catch up fairly regularly with a couple of other guys who’s wives also died of cancer which has been really helpful. There is something about being able to talk to someone who knows exactly what you are going through.  I’ve also spent time reading forums and blogs from people whose spouses have died. These have again been helpful in understanding my grief. They often put words to feelings and emotions that are difficult to articulate.  For those that don’t know what to say to someone in grief – spending some time reading these will help with understanding. One of the best books I was given (by a someone else who’s wife died) was Coping with grief.  I would personally recommend everyone read this – at some point everyone will face grief of some sort (relationship breakdown, loss through death, loss of relationships) or have to help someone else.  Don’t ask someone in the midst of grief how you can help them – read the book.  I read this before Julie died and then again after.  For a Christian perspective, this was also given to me and is a beautiful book –  A Grace Disguised.  The author lost his wife, daughter and mother in a car accident and it is quite a profound book.  Again I was given this by someone whose wife also died of cancer and read it before and after Julie died. We have just started family counseling together and I’m hoping this will help the kids understand themselves in the way the books have helped me. It’s still early days.

While some of the rawness of the grief has dissipated, it is still always there. The monthly anniversary of her death is generally more intense than other days. It is also hard watching the kids grieve. Today is Mother’s day.  We cooked one of Julie’s recipes and spent time with both sides of the family.  It was a nice day, but at the end we still cried together as Julie should have been there.  Whilst we form new memories, they are tinged with sadness that she is missing.

Main reason for this post!

Which brings me to the main reason for this blog post.  I need your stories.  It is incredibly important that the kids continue to get to know Julie as they get older.  Even though she isn’t here, she is still their Mother and they need to understand who she is.  They need to be able to see her in themselves, to understand who she was and to be proud of her.  I understand that people generally find it difficult to know whether to talk about Julie, they don’t want to upset the kids.  Where it makes sense, please do talk about her.  I think they will probably cope better than you might! So if the context makes sense, tell them the stories.  They need to hear them.

But even more important than telling these stories is to write them down.  This will allow them to come back to them as they get older and go through different life stages.  I understand that this is not easy, it will bring intense sadness.  But hopefully it will also be cathartic – you are showing your love for her by writing these memories for her children.

They don’t need to be profound.  But little details if that you can remember are important. What did you do together? What little things about Julie do you remember? I need you to write them down so they can be read as the kids get older.  If you knew Julie for a long time, don’t feel like you need to write it all at once, but as you think of something, take 10 min to write it down and send it to me. It will go in a journal or memory box for the kids to read over the years. You can comment on this blog if you need my contact details.  I’d really appreciate you taking the time to do this for us.

Thank you for your continued prayers for us. We like to hear from you so feel free to reach out. There is plenty of tea in the cupboard that needs drinking if you want to drop around for a visit.
Julie’s funeral will be held at 10am Friday 1st December, St Alban’s MBM, Corner Rooty Hill Rd and Westminster St, Rooty Hill.
There will be refreshments served at the church after the service and an opportunity for condolences with the family.  A committal service at Castle Hill Cemetery, Gilbert Road, Castle Hill will then follow.

In Lieu of Flowers, donations can be made to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.  There will be an opportunity to do this at the service.

Thanks,
Jeremy
This morning Julie’s journey here ended and I am absolutely raw.
It has been my privilege to walk with Julie for the last 17 years as her husband, and through last 5 years as she has battled this horrible disease.   She hated the effect it had on her life, the way it robbed her of so much:  Her independence, her ability to keep teaching and in the towards end, her ability to be the wife and Mother she longed to be.  She called it a “cruel disease” which did nothing but rob.
Over the week, Julie has spent less and less time each day awake.  Her family spent each day with her, and then as she became weaker, her sisters and nieces took it in turns to sleep beside her at night.  Her sister and niece were with her when she died.  Even yesterday I still got a couple of smiles when briefly woke.
Over the last week my grief has been immense.  There have been a number of times over the last year that i thought we were close to the end, each time Julie managing to bounce back.  As such we have grieved together numerous times but this time it has been so very raw.  I sit at home now and it feels like a picture has been shattered with pieces now lost.  Everything about our home has her heart in it.
I’m thankful for:
  • The fact that the day to day physical impacts of the disease and treatments were kept at bay for so long and she was able to keep teaching right through until a few months ago.  She loved teaching and it meant that the cancer was not controlling her life.  For her school who gave her the flexibility to attend appointments and supported her in so many ways
  • Special friends who have helped so much over the last few years with our children; ferrying them to and from school, looking after them, modeling Christ to them. We could not have held things together as a family without them and they have shown love in beautiful ways.
  • That in the last days, the decisions that needed to be made were not difficult.  The hospital was the right place to be. Julie was comfortable and we could be there with her
  • For time to say goodbye – but that the suffering was not drawn out.  We were both fearful of what it could have been like at the end
I recently read back to her first post, June 28 2012 titled “Please Pray”.  (https://myjourneyupdate.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/please-pray/). Right from the start Julie expressed her trust and faith in God through this blog.  She asked for prayer for both herself and for me – I still need it. In her first post she quoted Psalm 103.  The Psalms over the last year have been a real comfort to her – she would read them whilst anxiously waiting for oncology appointments and scan results.
Over the coming months I’m planning on collecting photos and stories from friends and extended family to compile for the kids.  There is no rush, however if you could send them to me that would be appreciated.  Funeral details will be decided shortly.
Jeremy

The cancer has nearly overwhelmed Julie’s body.  Since last Friday, Julie has been awake less and less and is now sleeping nearly all the time.  Any movement causes pain and this is being well managed by the doctors.  She is now very weak – breathing and talking is very difficult.

Her immediate family have spent this last week by her side and are cherishing the periods she is awake.  She still has a beautiful smile.

Please pray that her pain will be managed successfully and that she will be comfortable. Please also pray for us as her family,

Thanks you for all your support over such a long time, I can’t express how encouraging it has been to have you all on this journey with us.

Jeremy

A couple of weeks ago I had a fall in the bathroom.  I was holding on to the towel rail to anchor myself off the toilet and  it collapsed on me.  I cried, then crawled my way to the bed determined to get  some sleep. Which I had.  2 sweet hour’s worth.
My niece  came to pick me up to take me to our regular Thursday family dinner. She had been playing chauffeur for me all week.  Picking me up from the airport after flying to Melbourne for a retreat (Which was great by the way), taking me to and from chemo (& witnessing the pain I go through afterwards) and then this.
I couldn’t walk & convinced myself I had broken my femur. I rang Jeremy to let him know what had happened. My other niece came over that night and helped me relieve myself otherwise I’d have to go to emergency. Wherever there is a will there is a way! We managed a rather difficult and smelly task, which she and Jeremy deserve  a medal for. I had a good night sleep and was ready to be taken by ambulance to the hospital the next day.
After a number of painful x-rays, breaks were ruled out.  However 2 days later i developed a chest  infection, a rattling chest, a constant cough and have been on a steady decline. Prior to my stay in  hospital i had unexplained swelling in my leg and arm for about 2 weeks and it continues. The lack of movement has put me at risk of bed soars and I’ve had muscle wastage in my arms. So I look a)nd feel pretty  miserable.
I’m thankful for the new chemo ward I’m in, the wonderful nursing staff and the privilege of having my own room. It took 3 moves to get there but we did, without even asking for it. I’m glad we only live a short way from home. That way my family can see me regularly. And as usual for visitors during hospital stays it is restricted to family only.
Please pray for
– my medical team- That God would guide them to make wise decisions concerning my care
– my family that they are able to endure this difficult time whatever the outcome.
– my mum who worries a lot for me, that God would give her peace
– my husband who wears the weight of this burden
– my children that they continue to be resilient and trust God
– for me to keep trusting in God’s unfailing love
Thank you again for your prayers and your willingness to ride this journey with me. Lots of love to you.

For the last part of September and the first half of October saw a return to fairly good health. I was most appreciative of your prayers since it was my last blog post that seemed to trigger such a revival. So much so that I thought a return to school looked possible. However, I do not want to jeopardise my income protection insurance so was advised against this. Hence I am enjoying my time of rest and catching up with friends and family. You have encouraged me deeply and I am forever grateful.

The goal was to be able to run a small and simple party for Gemma’s 9th birthday. (I am now the mother of a 6,9 &12 year old. I love how they are all multiples of three!!) I made a cake and the girls were more than happy to decorate it with lots of confectionary. We did a trial run a couple of weeks before and were able to perfect it with some tweaking – thanks to a wonderful teacher from school who shared her recipe. It was a simple cupcake decorating party, or so I thought and much fun and mess was had. More importantly, Gemma was very happy with how it went. And I was very glad to be a part of it.

Unfortunately, I have developed a couple of nasty side effects. My feet have swelling issues as well as the whole leg that had the operation. This has seen a return to shortness of breath as well as mobility issues that has sent my progress backwards. Nevertheless I still managed to make it to Melbourne where I could meet up with members of my Facebook support group on our annual retreat. Although I spent most of my time with my feet elevated, the women around me looked after me and just understood me. It was lovely to get away with them.

It was hard not to be angry with God and the tug of war to keep trusting in his unfailing love became stronger again. I got my copy of Ray Galea’s new book, From here to Eternity, that has my story in it. I used it as a devotion for a few weeks, and it really encouraged my soul. The book is based on Romans chapter 8, one of the most encouraging chapters in the bible. The side effects later were equally discouraging and led me praying, groaning and crying before God.  So please, keep praying for me.

Pray

  • For my family that I will be able to live a long enough life to watch them grow up, finish school and see my grandbabies born
  • That God will help ease these side effects and take them away for good
  • That this cancer shrinks to oblivion and never rears its’ very ugly head
  • That I submit to God’s will over my life and trust in his unfailing love
  • That God can chose another way to accomplish his purposes without me having to die of this cancer
  • That I will be patient in my suffering, joyful in hope and faithful in prayer (Romans 12:12)

Thank you again for your love and support.