Breast Cancer Awareness Spotlight: Julie Barthels
The Rockford Register Star is featuring survivor stories throughout October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Who is she? Julie Barthels, 57, is married and lives in Machesney Park. She has two grown daughters.
How long have you been a breast cancer survivor? I was diagnosed Aug. 23, 2010, but I still do not feel like a survivor yet. I feel like I am a person living life with cancer.
What do you wish people knew about breast cancer? Breast cancer is like people; there are different types. That individuality makes treatment and prognosis different. If someone tells me they have breast cancer, I don’t assume they are experiencing it the way I did. I listen to their feelings and their story. I also wish people knew that sometimes wanting to survive cancer or having a “good attitude” is not enough. I had a friend with the same kind of breast cancer I have, and she did not make it. It was not because she did not have a good attitude. She had two young sons and wanted to make it more than any cancer patient I’ve known. No one really knows why some people make it and some people don’t.
How has facing breast cancer changed your outlook on life? I have always treasured time as a gift, but now I feel that more keenly. The type of breast cancer I have is aggressive, so I don’t know what the future will bring. But this moment and this day, I have a fairly good idea. So I really try to stay in this moment and cherish the people in my life and the experiences I have. Sometimes it is the simple moments that move me the most. Some days I drive to the office with a big, cheesy smile on my face and wonder what other drivers think when they see me. Just getting to do those every day — ordinary things — make me extraordinarily happy. I experience gratitude more deeply than before the cancer. I am grateful for the family and friends who fill my days with love and joy. I am especially grateful for the amazing medical care and emotional support I have received at Beloit Health System Cancer Center.
Something people would be surprised to learn about you: I studied to be a minister when I went away to college. I believe that having faith has been essential for me in coping with breast cancer. Also, I wrote a book for my daughters, should I not make it through treatment. “I Would Rather Love Life Than Hate Cancer” is about the lessons I learned from cancer and a mother’s wisdom for the days they need a mom the most. Two years ago, I had copies printed and bound as Christmas gifts for my daughters. There was a lot of laughter and tears that day.
Your motto in life: Live with intention, gratitude, kindness and wholeness.
Something people should appreciate more: I wish people would appreciate everything more. The time they have, the people who love them and the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people. And while I appreciate that there are issues in the greater Rockford area, I wish people would appreciate their community and all the amazing things it has to offer.
Something you find inspirational: I work as a therapist, and I find my clients inspirational. Many of them have experienced trauma, pain and hardship, and yet they persevere in a way that gives life meaning. It humbles me and inspires me. I chuckle to myself when they tell me I inspire them because I am the one who feels inspired.
Favorite movie: “Remember the Titans” with Denzel Washington.
Favorite way to spend the weekend in the Rock River Valley: There is always so many fun things to do, but I love biking around Rock Cut the best. I am not as strong physically as I was before cancer, but even if I only get four or five miles in, I am wearing that cheesy smile.
I always wanted to ... go to Europe. There is a history there that we don’t have here in the U.S.
Favorite book: That’s hard. I am such a reader. If I narrowed it down, I’d say “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown or “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz. And I’ve loved every book ever written by Leo Buscaglia.
What are you watching on TV? I have been captivated by “Numb3rs.” I love figuring out how math will help the FBI solve crimes, and I have a pretty good track record with guessing who the bad guy is.
Who are your role models? I have many well-known role models, like Nelson Mandela and Maya Angelou. They have taught me that painful experiences allow us to choose how we will perceive them and ourselves. This has been important to my journey with breast cancer. I can decide how I want to see myself. Do I choose to see myself as less of a woman because I only have one breast? Or do I see myself as one of many women and men who will face this disease in their lifetime? Probably the strongest role models in my life have been women, my mother and three aunts. They taught me about the importance of giving to others, serving my community, embracing my own creativity, living with integrity and kindness. I have their sense of humor, too.