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Cancer Journey



Julie Forward DeMay really didnít want to talk about the cervical cancer that she was fighting with all her might. But, says her mother, June Forward of Oconomowoc, she wanted her friends to know how she was doing, so she blogged about what itís like to face down fear and win.

Not just personal friends, but others battling cancer, their families and caregivers read the blog. They came to know Julie as a determined 36-year-old mother who aimed a full arsenal of emotions at the disease ó from anger to humor, frustration to inspiration, outrage to peace.

It took more than a year after Julie died for her mother to assemble the blogs into "Cell War Notebooks," a book that Forward chose to self-publish "because I didnít want anybody to edit those words." So Julieís blogs appear in the book just as she wrote them.

Forward says although the book chronicles a monumental struggle, her daughterís words are often "uplifting and full of hope."

From March 5, 2009: "There is a small part of me that is screaming and yelling and saying canít someone just rip this stuff out of me and chuck it in the garbage? Canít I just throw up and have it come out? But I have to keep going. I have to drink my vegetables and eat my vitamins. I have to watch Scott and Thandi finish the sauna. I have to help Luka learn to jump rope. So here I go."

Julie majored in creative writing in college, Forward says, and she was also a freelance photographer. Julieís photographs illustrate the book just as they were used in her blogs, like the picture of her getting a buzz cut the day her hair started falling out in clumps from the chemotherapy.

From Jan. 25, 2009: "With cancer, it always comes down to the hair. I wonít miss it so much as I will miss my life with hair. Being bald is the cancer signal and from here on out, I wonít be so incognito with my damn ugly mutating cells. People will see my pretty scarf and know that I am sick.

"They wonít know if I am wearing a cute blonde pixie cut wig, I guess though. Anyone got one of those?"

Julie writes as if she is having a conversation with a close friend. Forward says people who did not know her personally have told her, "I feel like I have just befriended the most amazing woman."

As the posts move across seven months, an intimate portrait of Julie emerges ó her struggles with the treatmentsí side effects; her fierce love of her husband, family and friends who pull out all the stops to support her battle; and her insistence on living on her own terms.

From July 28, 2009, the last post: "Itís time to teach my daughter the beauty and strength in surrender; itís time to show her the absolute courage it takes to fight with all the power you have and then realize the Pain is not going to stop until you give it the word."

"Her life dream was to be a published author," Forward says. "So I said to her, before she passed away, ĎJulie, I want to get this published for you.í I couldnít do anything else, I couldnít take her pain away, but I could get it published for her. I would give anything if it wasnít about this."

Proceeds from "Cell War Notebooks" will be put into a fund for Julieís daughter, Luka.

Fighting Cancer

Last year, 12,200 new cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed, according to the National Cancer Institute. The sooner the cancer is detected, the better the outlook for the patient, says Dr. Janet Rader, professor and chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Medical of Wisconsin. "Itís very curable early, but once itís advanced, itís very difficult to treat."

Women should have cervical cancer screenings and pap smears starting at age 21, Rader says, and every two to three years thereafter. The HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine, designed to prevent the type of genital warts that can develop into cervical cancer, is recommended for both boys and girls, Rader says. Genital warts can be transmitted through intimate contact. "You need to be vaccinated against the virus at a young age because your immune system just responds better," Rader explains. 

- by Nan Bialek