Julia is another one of our Tattoo-a-thon ambassadors who has a very personal connection to the children who will benefit from funds raised, having fought the same battle herself.
How and when were you diagnosed?
I was diagnosed in August/September 1988 at the age of 14 with an embryonal Rhabdomyosarcoma in my right middle ear. I had an ear infection that I picked up in the January after going on holiday in the December to a place with a mineral water swimming pool. The infection just did not go away and I ended up with grommets being done in the June. These fell out and in the August/September when I went to have them put back in again the ENT noticed something that to him looked like a fungus, so he took a biopsy.
Well then everything just happened very fast.
I was taken out of school early on a Monday as the doctor had phoned my parents wanting an urgent meeting. That same Wednesday I was at Ward 294 at Joburg General Hospital seeing Dr Janet Poole and Dr Richard Cohn, having scans etc. and started my chemotherapy on the Thursday of the same or next week, I cannot remember.
Of course I lost my hair and my weight dropped to 38kgs so I looked absolutely lovely indeed.
I was in Standard 8 at the time and missed the end of the school year. I tried going back to school in the January but it was just too much so I attended hospital school 3 days a week for 3 weeks a month. I went back to school for Matric and still missed the last week of school every month but managed to pass the year.
What are some of the feelings/moments were most challenging to face?
I think that being a child you just go with the flow. It was something that just became a part of our lives going forward and this is how life was, and how it was going to be for the next two years. Of course it was hard as you are left out of your friend’s social lives and are not able to go out and do what they are doing but I had some great friends who supported me through it all and today we are still friends.
My younger sister had a hard time though as for her it was scary to watch me going through what I did.
As for my parents, now that I am a parent myself I can comprehend what they must have gone through and how awful it must have been for them. But my parents were fantastic throughout it all.
A positive attitude is the most important aspect of this. We never spoke as it if was a death sentence we just got on with the treatment, changed our life style accordingly and missioned through it all. Today I really think that being positive was a big part in the recovery and getting through treatment.
CHOC were very supportive and provided the support my parents needed. Sadie Cutland is a fabulous person and there were two amazing nurses in the Ward – Pat and Hilary – who I will never forget. I even had the chance to come to Cape Town in 1989 courtesy of Reach for A Dream as a patient was not able to go and the spot was offered to my family.
Why do you feel such a personal passion for supporting the Tattoo-a-thon?
It’s my way of giving something back to CHOC and of course I love tattoo’s too :). Why not get another tattoo and support a great cause at the same time and have something to remember for the rest of your life?
What tattoos have you got and what do they mean to you?
I wanted to get my first tattoo on my 35th birthday, which would have been 25 years since I started treatment but I missed that date and ended up doing it on my 37th birthday. The tattoo is of an infinity symbol which represents my husband and I, who used the infinity symbol for our wedding as we are infinite beings.
In 2012, my sister and I did our first Tattoo-A-Thon and I added on to this tattoo by wrapping it around my wrist.
In 2013, we did our second Tattoo-A-Thon and I did a heart with wings on my right ankle to symbolise the angels and love that I had along my treatment journey. This will still be added to.
In 2014, we did our third Tattoo-A-Thon and I added an owl to the infinity symbol on my wrist as a symbol of wisdom
And this year I would like to do a Phoenix Feather as a symbol of rebirth, rising from destruction!