As Jule* approaches her 50th birthday this year, she realizes she has faced one type of health struggle or another for many years of her life. Her beautiful smile and positive outlook on life would cause you to think she’s lived an easy life.Unless you asked her, like I did for this interview, you’d never know all the hurdles this overcomer has had to face.
* Her real name, used with permission.
Her first health struggle came at age 11, when she had a nodule taken out of her neck, only to be told she had Hodgkin’s disease. She was treated with radiation. The doctors told her parents they were sure the radiation treatments would cause her problems later in life, but they couldn’t predict what kind of problems those would be.
One night in the hospital, Jule roamed the halls to get her mind off her upcoming treatment. She was scared, but she felt God whisper, “It’s going to be OK.”
Two years later, the Hodgkin’s disease came back, but this time in her right lung. Her treatment was six months of chemotherapy and radiation. Her classmates made fun of her and pulled off her hats to reveal her bald head. Jule was so sick from the medicine that she was home-schooled during 7th grade.
Even with the treatments, Jule continued to have problems. She underwent exploratory surgery. Her spleen, gall bladder, and part of her liver were taken out. Her ovaries were also moved down with the hopes the radiation wouldn’t affect them. Her doctors were amazed by her courage: “You are so brave! You are so strong!”
Jule experienced a much needed break from her health struggles during her teens and twenties. She enjoyed the freedom and fun of college life. Shortly after college, Jule met Bryan at a merchandise mart in North Carolina. A year later they ran into each other at a dance club and began dating. They married a year later.
Jule’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer during the early years of her marriage. She remembers her mom waking up in the night and calling for her. Jule rushed to check on her. When her mom looked up at her, she asked Jule if her name was Sunshine. Such a precious time for Jule.
Jule and Bryan were blessed with a daughter (Jordan) and then a son (Christian).
For twenty years, Jule lived a life free of health struggles. But because of her radiation and chemotherapy at a young age, her OB-GYN encouraged her to have a mammogram when she was 33 years old. The radiologist delivered the news that she had stage 2 breast cancer. She asked her doctor, “What would you recommend if I were your wife?”
She followed his recommendation and had a double mastectomy. She endured three months of chemotherapy and had reconstruction surgery. “My son colored on my bald head, because I once again lost my hair,” she remembers.
Jule focused on playing games and spending time with her kids instead of focusing on how sick she was. To help explain such a difficult topic to her young children, Jule wrote The Scarf Game. She read and reread the book to them. She still shares her book with young people with the hopes that they too can understand the difficult challenges we face in this life.
It was during this time that Jule decided she was one of God’s favorites. I catch her smiling when she shares this declaration with me. “I’ve always thought I was touched by God and He chose me for a reason. Because of my struggles, my faith is stronger. I want people to see Jesus in me. We are here to shine a light.”
Jule definitely shines a light everywhere she goes. Her story of struggle and overcoming is not complete yet, so please check back next Friday when I share part 2 of her story.
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