Real Life

Real life: Mum and I battled cancer at the same time

When Mum and I both received devastating news, I was terrified for my child.

Julia Domigan, 35, Campbell, ACT shares her letter of love:

Dear Joel,
When I showed you the blue lines on my pregnancy test, your eyes lit up.
"Oh good," you said, in your matter-of-fact way and I laughed.
We'd known each other nearly 10 years, and had been married for three.
I'd never really imagined myself as a mother, so it was a little daunting knowing we were going to be parents.
"We'll be just fine," you said.
Our love of giving to our community saw me excel as a lawyer, while you worked as a military helicopter pilot.
We were often apart, but stayed in constant contact.
When I told Mum and Dad they were about to become grandparents, they were thrilled.
Two weeks later, Dad called.
"I'm sorry, Jules, but your mum's been diagnosed with stage-four gastric cancer," he said. "The prognosis isn't good."
A lump formed in my throat as I took in the devastating news. Afterwards, I fell into your comforting arms.
"How am I supposed to do this parenting thing without Mum?" I asked you.
Me and mum - she was such a positive person. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
"Be positive like her," you encouraged.
Just as I started to accept Mum's diagnosis, I felt a cyst in my left breast.
"That's common during pregnancy, right?" I asked Mum, but she encouraged me to get it checked.
I was sent for an ultrasound and a mammogram.
Days later, I was too busy at work to answer the phone, so my GP rang you instead.
You left me a voice message.
"Jules, you need to go to the doc right away," you said in a shaky voice.
I drove straight over.
"It's breast cancer," she said.
I felt the world close in on me as I took in her words.
You and me on our beautiful wedding day. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
Why me? What about my baby?
By then, I was 14 weeks along. The doc explained I'd need more tests before we devised a treatment plan.
I called you from the car in a flood of tears.
"We'll get through this," you promised. You were always a constant source of comfort.
What's more, Mum had been admitted to hospital, and work was inundating me with calls and emails.
When I finally saw you, we just held one another, and every worry melted away.
"So... crazy day, huh?" you asked and I laughed.
You always had the ability to defuse any situation. You were my rock.
Everything'll be okay, I told myself. I had a month of more tests before we learnt my cancer had spread to my liver and bones.
"I'm sorry Julia, you have about two years to live," the doc said. Chemo would give me more time, but my cancer was too advanced to be stopped.
It was an awful twist of fate that Mum and I were both suffering at the same time.
You pulled me into your chest and we sobbed. I was only 34.
"What about our baby?" I asked the doc.
Even with all the worries, I was thrilled to become a mum. (Image: Supplied)
"We don't know how the chemo will affect the baby, but we need to try to save your life first," she said.
I was racked with guilt. I wanted to be a mum, but how could I if I was dying?
Telling my parents was horrible. They'd had their fair share of this cruel disease.
"Just take every day as it comes," Mum said, patting my hand.
She was always so positive.
For weeks, I wallowed in my grief, but I was determined to be positive for you and our little peanut.
I felt tired, but we didn't know whether it was the chemo or the pregnancy.
"How else do you think superheroes are born?" you grinned, and I chuckled.
You always made me feel better.
When my hair began to fall out, you shaved yours off, too.
At 35 weeks, I was put under general anaesthetic and gave birth via c-section. When I woke up, you brought our daughter to me.
"She's perfect," you said. I'd never seen you look happier.
At 2.2kg, she was tiny and looked like a potato, but I've never known such joy.
Mum holding five-day-old Aurora. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
"She's okay," I cried with relief. She'd made it through my chemo unscathed.
We named her Aurora, but called her Rory, and two weeks later, I was having treatment while juggling a newborn.
I was more determined than ever to fight my cancer.
I couldn't leave her without a mother.
Despite her own health battles, Mum moved in to help.
By then, she seemed so frail.
"She looks like both of you," she smiled. It meant so much that she got to meet Aurora.
Five weeks later, Mum, 63, passed away and we were heartbroken.
"She'd want you to keep fighting," you encouraged me.
When I was drained from chemo, you took up the slack with Rory while still working.
The Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) and our loved ones helped where they could, cooking, babysitting, doing housework and sending care packages.
It meant I could focus on being the best wife and mum in the time I had left.
To give back to those who helped us, I raffled Mum's art work to raise funds for BCNA. So far I've collected over $35,000.
You, me and Aurora - we've made some precious memories. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
I also began sharing my story to start a conversation about death.
It's inevitable for us all, and since it's happening to me right now, I want to use my voice.
"I want a big party instead of a wake," I told you when we discussed my funeral.
I wanted Aurora to know all about me, so I created a memorabilia box with my school prefect badges, my beret from when I trained as an army officer, pictures from my student days, and awards and
certificates I'd earned.
Our little family. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
I also bought her a charm bracelet.
For every birthday until Aurora turns 21, inspiring women in my life will give her a charm on my behalf.
I've added notes with them so she and you can sense my presence once I'm gone.
"She'll love that," you said.
As for you, my darling, I know you're going to be the best dad ever, and keep my memory alive.
Now, Aurora has just started walking and talking and I'm so grateful for the time I've had with her.
In my chemo breaks, we've travelled around the world, making precious memories. I want you both to remember how much I love you.
Yours forever,
To donate or learn more, visit the Breast Cancer Network Australia at bcna.org.au

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