Julia's story - living with terminal bowel cancer

Julia Watson is a mother of four beautiful, busy young girls. She also has terminal bowel cancer. Julia opens up about choosing living over dying, and what she wishes she knew about bowel cancer before she left it too late. 

Julia Watson hasn’t always been a peroxide-blond, confident woman with a funky pixie haircut and large tattoos. Once upon a time she did what she could to fit into the world of ‘normal’, not wanting to stand out.

But when she found out she was dying of bowel cancer, she decided to start living her life exactly the way she wanted to. 
 
“I changed a lot, personally. I used to be quite conventional and would follow the pack. But when I was diagnosed with cancer I decided to just start doing everything that I had wanted to do,” Julia says.
 
“I’ve decided to like myself a lot more than I did before, because what’s the point of being any other way?”
 
Julia had been unwell for a whole year, but she brushed it off as stress. Raising four girls while studying was hard work. She figured lower abdominal pain may have just been hormonal, and put her family’s health ahead of her own.
 
Help support this special family spend more time together by contributing to the Julia Watson Family Fund
julia with her four girls
“I had advanced cancer for the whole last year before my diagnosis, but I still functioned very highly. I used to think, you know I’ve got all these symptoms but I can’t really be sick otherwise I wouldn’t be doing all these things I was doing.”

It wasn’t until she experienced a major bowel bleed that she decided to go to the doctor, and a colonoscopy revealed she had bowel cancer.

“He said that it was a very big tumour and that it definitely had to be removed, then they had to find out whether it had spread anywhere else,” she remembers.

It had, further scans revealed it had already spread to Julia’s liver, the cancer was stage four. Her specialists started talking about palliative care. 

Julia was 42, her youngest daughter was just 5.

“My eldest girl is very keen on netball and is very good at it, the other three are crazy little cats. Our youngest girl, has Down syndrome, she’s a little sweet heart so we’re all very devoted to her. They’re very happy little girls, they love drama and dancing and all the things little girls love.”

If it had been detected early, it most likely could have been surgically removed.

“At first I felt like giving up because I was told that it’s not going to be very long. I was given probably three to 12 months. Two years maximum. It was caught very late. 

“But then I just decided to fight it. I turned my attitude around and said I’ll do this as long as I can. People now live with cancer as a chronic illness for quite a long time so I just decided this was what I wanted to do.” 

And she did. In March 2014 Julia was rushed into surgery with a bowel obstruction which was almost fatal. But she overcame that and continued to fight on for her girls. It’s now been almost three years since her diagnosis.

In-between doctors’ appointments, proudly watching netball games, chemotherapy and cheering at home during carefully choreographed junior dance performances, Julia managed to write her first book called ‘Breakfast, School Run, Chemo’. She also developed a popular blog called Five Fairies and a Fella, where she details what it’s like to live the busy life as a mum of four while knowing her days are numbered. 

julia and family with book
Her partner Gary has always been a huge support, even when facing his own challenges.  

“He had cancer himself three years ago so we’ve both been through it. The little girls, they were told what was going on within what they could understand for their age. They know that I will die from the cancer one day but that I’m here now, we don’t know when, so we just get on with life as normal.”
 
Julia says the most important thing for her now, aside from spending time with family, is spreading her message. 
 
“You’ve really got to prioritise yourself, especially as a mum because at the end of the day, you’re it. You’re really important, the heart of the family,” she says. 

“So you mustn’t ignore any symptoms because even though 9 times out of 10 they’re not going to be anything, it’s a really quick process to find out.”

Bowel cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in women, with around 1900 women dying from the disease in Australia every year, which is why Bowel Cancer Australia has launched Be Well Week, from Sept 5 to September 11. 
 
It’s a campaign which encourages women of all ages to support the work of Bowel Cancer Australia by hosting a Be Well Breakfast or Be Well Brunch fundraiser with female family members and friends.
 
“There’s a lot of knowledge out there about breast cancer, but people are still ashamed and embarrassed to talk about their bowels or bowel movements,” Julia says. “It’s really important to get the message out there that we all go to the toilet, it’s not embarrassing. It’s something that can be talked about and investigated.  
 
“It’s obviously a little bit confronting to have it investigated but that’s nothing compared to having chemotherapy every week and facing the fact that you’re going to die.”
 
“I hope I can save even just one person from going through this, someone else’s children from losing their mum, or someone else’s partner from dealing with what Gary has had to deal with.”
 
If you’re interested in finding out whether your number two is normal, check out our article Colour, consistency and size – health clues from your poo.  
 
To speak with a Bowel Care Nurse about a question or experience related to bowel cancer visit the Bowel Cancer Australia website or call 1800 555 494 between 10am and 4pm, Monday to Friday.
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