My life has been touched by some uber amazing women whose passion for life and the way they choose to live it have really inspired me. Some are bloggers, some are not, their lives are all different and they are all special. I feel honoured and privileged that they are sharing their stories and sprinkling a little bit of their awesome right here. May you be wom-inspired!
Meet Julie Shinners.
I’ve crossed paths with some glorious people on the interwebs and Julie is one of them. I mean how can you not love a woman with a blog whose name is Boob in a Box? And I’m not just talking about the the mighty fine alliteration either. Julie says her blog is about how cancer means nothing to her on some days and everything in others. As it happens, Julie and I have a lot in common and I’m not just talking about cancer. We both started blogging post-cancer, we were both nominated for a Kidspot award in 2015 and we both show our love by feeding people. (Is there any other way?!) Julie however, has had one of her blog posts go viral world-wide, does regular guest speaking gigs around the traps, and is writing a course for professionals on resilience in work and life. Julie isn’t a survivor, she’s a thriver and she’s just so inspiring!
Tell us a bit about yourself.
On 4 October 2012, I was a full-time working mother with a four year old son, my husband was halfway through a career-changing degree. I was president of my son’s kindy management committee, and also keeping an eye on my ageing parents. On 5 October 2012, I was told I was someone with breast cancer, and that it was aggressive and likely terminal. I had a radical mastectomy and axilla (lymph node) clearance a few days later, followed by 8 months of treatment including chemotherapy and radiation. It was not, and so far is still not, terminal, but the future is still uncertain. What I didn’t know on 5 October 2012 that I know now, is that everyone’s future is uncertain, it’s just that some of us are made more keenly aware of the uncertainty.
When I emerged from cancer treatment, I felt like ET in Drew Barrymore’s bedroom. Everything felt weird and unfamiliar and frightening. I too wanted to hide in the cupboard, but sensing that people might find that a little weird, I instead started a blog to help me make sense of what had happened to me.
Blogging started as cheap therapy but has turned into an incredibly important part of my life. Through blogging I have connected with many interesting and amazing people (and some crazies), and have also done a fair bit of public speaking at cancer charity and awareness-raising events and functions. I’ve always enjoyed public speaking, and cancer has given me something to speak to the public about. Thanks cancer!
Tell us 3 things you are and 3 things you’re not.
I am resilient, organised, and happy but bitchy-resting-faced.
I am not easily pleased, readily awoken or vocally blessed.
Complete this sentence, ____________________ changed my life. How and why?
Becoming a mother changed my life. I know that most people would expect me to say that cancer changed my life, and it many ways it did (given one of my boobs is now kept in a box), but not as much as having my son. Being a mother has changed everything about me, yet made me more myself. It has worn holes in my heart, but made also made my heart bigger, more open, and much more robust. On occasion, it has broken me down to the point that I’ve felt like I’m just fibres of being flapping in the breeze, but then steadily, and without me even realising it, motherhood has built me up into a person that I didn’t know I had the capacity to be. I never thought I would have the chance to be a mother, and when it did happen it was almost an out-of-body experience for a long while, so to be completely and utterly charmed and affected by it continues to be a shock. I am comfortable in the role – happy and fulfilled – but still regularly feel surprised that, for real, this is me, I am Hugh’s mother.
What has been life’s greatest lesson?
Before I had cancer, I had four miscarriages. In part, I mentally and emotionally dealt with the miscarriages by convincing myself that everyone has one ‘thing’, a life event which teaches them their big life lesson – a massive heartbreak, a terrible challenge, an enormous cross to bear. I thought miscarriage was my ‘thing’ – my heartbreak, my challenge, my cross. And then I got cancer, and realised that if you only have one ‘thing’ in your life then you’re ridiculously lucky, because lots of people get dealt shitty hand after shitty hand. Life doesn’t run like a movie plot with the old happy – sad – happy again scenario. Often, it is more like happy – sad – really sad – holy crap I thought I was sad before –happy – oh no here comes sad again – happy (but is it, is it really?), oh lord I can smell sad a mile away – happy … fade to black. Having learnt this lesson (the hard way), I feel so much more able to really live my life.
What is your biggest achievement?
I wrote a blog post about my son and his best friend, and it went viral, pretty much the only country in which it wasn’t read thousands of times is Greenland. I’m not sure why the people of Greenland hate me, but I’m attempting to move on from it. Anyway, the post was called Think of the Child and it was a simple story about love and equality. I am intensely proud that my words struck a chord with people.
What has been your toughest obstacle and how have you overcome it?
My chemotherapy regime was what they call ‘dose dense’, because my cancer was aggressive and advanced. Normally it’s given every three weeks, to allow the body time to recover in between doses, but mine had to be given every two weeks. I did this for sixteen weeks, pretty much without incident. Sure, it was hard and horrible (the treatment, not my bald head), but I did ok. Then, the day before my final chemotherapy, I just totally lost my shit. My husband and I went to the movies, and then afterwards he went to get the car because I was too tired to walk, and it was raining, but then we lost each other and by the time he found me I was hysterical, and I cried inconsolably for about four hours, just sobbed and sobbed because I felt like I just couldn’t do it anymore, I was at my limit, I had given my whole life over to cancer and cancer treatment and there was nothing left. But I got up the next morning, I got dressed, I put my scarf on my bald noggin, and I went and had that last dose of chemotherapy.
Viktor Frankl says “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.” Everyone needs a purpose, what’s yours?
To be me, for all the people who love and respect me.
What are your words to live by?
Forever is composed of nows (from the American poet Emily Dickinson).
If you could have any mentor, alive or dead, who would you choose and why?
A guy called Paul Kalanithi, who is sadly no longer alive. He was a neurosurgeon (who also had a Masters degree in English Literature), who was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer (despite never having smoked) at the age of 36. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. He wrote a book before he died called When Breath Becomes Air which is about what makes life worth living – an incredible life-affirming story from someone in the throes of death. It is the most amazing writing I have ever read.
If you could play hookie for a day what would be on your list to do?
There’d be no list – hookie days and lists should not be mentioned in the same sentence.
You give so much to others, what do you do to take care of yourself?
Laugh, cook, write and sleep (not necessarily in that order).
Thank you for sharing, Julie.
Let Julie inspire you a little bit more…
on the blog
and on twitter