I feel so blessed that I’ve crossed paths with some truly amazing women, and feel incredibly honoured that they have chosen to share their stories here. For the past 18 months, every Friday this space has been transformed into a place of awe, wonder and of course, wom-inspiration. The She’s So Inspiring series has been one of the best bits of the blog for me, and from the comments and messages I’ve been receiving, it’s been a highlight for you too. However, my mum always told me that “all good things come to an end,”and I figured this series is no exception.
That said, I’m a democracy loving people pleaser so based on community feedback and upon reflection, I’ve decided rather than finish the wom-inspiration forever, to press the pause button on the series instead, while I recharge my batteries, petition some more women of awesome and generally get my act together. Stay tuned because my mum always says, all good things come to those who wait. And mother is always right. Just don’t tell her I said that, ‘kay?
Now let’s get down to some inspiring business, shall we?
Meet Julia Watson.
Now I’m a lover not a fighter so there will be no guns blazing for this the last interview of the series, but I’m pretty sure there’s going to be some fists bumping and some highs fiving. You’ll see why. It’s a bit ironic that Julia is the last woman of awesome in this inaugural series of She’s So Inspiring, because she was one of the first people I approached at the start. In the last 18 months, I have been persistent, patient and if the truth be told, a cross between a Julia fangirl and Julia’s stalker. Meanwhile, Julia has written a book, blogged like a boss and literally had to fight for her life. But where there’s a will, there’s a way (for both of us.)
If anyone knows about wills and ways, it’s Julia. There’s been a hell of a lot going on behind her scenes, if you want some context, you can check out this post to bring you up to speed. In saying that, Jules is so awesome, she really needs no introduction, except to say, she is of course, so inspiring!
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Our family was always a bit unconventional. I was born to a mum of 43 and a dad of 52, 19 years after their last baby! Mum thought she was going through the change of life, but no, that was me! My life was shaped by my mothers mental illness. She was diagnosed with bipolar, then known as manic depression, and it became a lot worse after I was born – we look back now and realise that she had untreated post-natal depression, which wasn’t really “recognised” back then. She passed away when I was 21, and there is so much I wish I could say to her now, for things that I didn’t understand back then.
My life changed at 6 years old forever, when a period of sexual abuse by a distant relative, which went on for several years, began. You are never really the same after that, and I could never fit in anywhere afterwards. Then at 13 it came to light that I had a congenital hip problem, and walked with a limp from there on after – I was badly bullied for most of my school life, and it made for a very negative little girl, and teenager.
I studied journalism straight out of school, but then moved to England for a couple of years working holiday, and went straight into a career in hospitality, as Aussie backpackers often do! I married the manager of the first backpacker hostel that I stayed in – people joked that I didn’t like the dormitory accommodation and had to find my way into the managers residence. We moved back to Australia a few years later, but the dream was over after 9 years. Not long after that, I met a man atop a Harley Davidson and asked him to take me for a ride on it. He did, and not long after, we had pretty much named the children we were going to have. Now, he IS the dream and the children are named Dakota, who is 12, Indi, 11 Tana who is 10, and Georgie, the darling little light of our life, who we found out had Down syndrome when she was born, is 8.
Tell us 3 things you are and 3 things you’re not.
I AM Kind: Years and years of learning how deep others words can cut means that I always try to think before I speak, and let my own words encourage, or uplift. There is absolutely no excuse to hurt others just for the sake of it, or to make you feel better about yourself.
I AM A good mum: And this doesn’t mean a perfect one. It just means that I take time to look back and learn from my own experiences as a child, and I try not to repeat the things that hurt me. It also means often not succeeding at this, and saying sorry to my children when it is appropriate. I want my children to grown up seeing that life is REAL, and that means it will never be perfect.
I AM non-judgemental: I haven’t always been, I can look back and think of many times when I have judged others, just through my own fear of people / things that are different to me. Age, and life experience have changed me completely, now my motto is as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, you can do whatever you like – and you should!
I AM NOT Patient: My tendency is to fly off the handle first, and apologise later. It is far from my favourite character trait and I am a work in progress!
I AM NOT Organised: There is absolutely nobody on earth who can run around like a cut cat and get absolutely nowhere like me!
I AM NOT Dishonest: You can always count on me to tell you that you arse looks big in that, if it does, and you asked. Then I will tell you that you look awesome, no one cares how big your arse looks, let’s go out and have some fun!
Complete this sentence, ____________________ changed my life. How and why?
Being diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer at the age of 42 changed my life. It sounds very contrived, as every person diagnosed with cancer will tell you it changed their life. It changes EVERYTHING. It takes away your innocence, your potential for a long future, makes you face your mortality on a daily basis, takes you through horrors only before imagined, as you contemplate a future for your children and loved ones without you. What you don’t imagine is that it also delivers rich blessings if you know how to look for them, like no longer caring what others think of you, cutting everything from your life except the things that really matter, living and loving and laughing like you never did before, as there is going to be no other time to do it. And sometimes, just sometimes, learning to love yourself, REALLY love yourself, after a lifetime of self-loathing.
What has been life’s greatest lesson?
That you really have no control over anything! For years before being diagnosed with cancer I had my life mapped out. I went back to study, and I was going to balance motherhood with career, work with asylum seekers and write their stories, knock family life out of the park concurrently, I could see it, feel it, I was so SURE OF IT. Then in the process of one afternoon I had my life expectancy reduced to between 3 months and two years, and none of it happened. There was no need to drive myself insane for years, cramming two full days into one, not getting enough sleep, snapping at everyone because I was so tired. It’s good, and important to have goals, but at the time time, slow down if you can, look for what really matters, as these road blocks, big or small, can happen to any of us at any time, bringing us to realise that no matter how hard we work to control our existences, sometimes we just can’t.
What is your biggest achievement?
Having my book, “Breakfast, School Run, Chemo” published in September 2015. In late 2014 my palliative care nurse suggested I channel my passion for writing into a blog, an outlet for what I was experiencing on a day to day basis juggling life with terminal cancer, four children, frequent operations and trips to the chemo chair etc.
I never expected many people to read it, but posted my blogs to my Facebook page, but soon I noticed it was being shared and shared and shared, within months views were into the 100,000’s. A group of friends got together to self-publish it for me, which was a dream come true, however I was extremely fortunate to have it looked at by a publishing house, Black Inc in Melbourne, and I was offered a publishing contract. Soon after the story of my book, and my family, became the subject of an episode of 60 minutes.
Having the book published has bought with it a huge amount of positives in my life. Firstly it gave me focus, and excitement, in a year that I might not have even been expected to still be alive. It is a life long legacy for my girls, as while I might not be with them in years to come, through my book they will get a feel for who I was as a person, way beyond the mum that they remember. And, for my readers, thousands of whom have written to me about it, it has to some had at least a little meaning, and to others, a lot.
A lot of people write to me about shared experiences with cancer, of course, but just as many, if not more, have written to me about other aspects of the book – areas where I have woven my own personal stories, of sexual abuse, and bullying, and changing my life for the better. Things like trying to live authentically, and honestly, and that it is ok to be anyone you want to be. People have written to me about changing their own life story for the better, something they have found they were able to do, due to the accessibility of me, and my story, and no one could ask for a bigger legacy than that.
What has been your toughest obstacle and how have you overcome it?
Definitely learning to live in the moment and not be future focused. I was so busy in 2013 with family and full time study, that I put a lot of symptoms that were actually cancer, down to “stress’, and missed a lot of signs of how sick I was. And I wasn’t able to complete that diploma.
However, with this comes a great gift. The gift of learning that all any of us have is the moment in time that we exist in right now, none of us knows what is down the track, around the corner.
When I get panicked about my reduced life expectancy, and leaving my family, and just plain scared of dying, I bring myself into the moment – sometimes kicking and screaming, and I think sometimes this is singularly the thing that saved me from going somewhere very dark.
Viktor Frankl says “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.” Everyone needs a purpose, what’s yours?
Having a platform through my blog, and book, has allowed me to reach out to thousands of people with cancer and other life threatening conditions. We can share knowledge, empathise, laugh and cry together, and generally feel less alone. Sharing my story with others and hopefully helping them through their own obstacles will continue to be my purpose.
Also, helping and guiding my four daughters grow from little girls into feisty, strong women, for as long as I am here.
What are your words to live by?
After my liver surgery, which was my only chance of curing my cancer was cancelled in 2015, I said that I would not focus on the timeline that I was given, but instead, would give “as much as I can, for as long as I can”. Those have become my words to live by.
If you could have any mentor, alive or dead, who would you choose and why?
Definitely Frida Kahlo. This lady was way ahead of her time. She lived with lifelong health problems, and died young, but still managed to carve out a full and interesting life, where she always lived her truth.
If you could play hookie for a day what would be on your list to do?
I’d probably just take a good book somewhere pretty and peaceful and enjoy the solitude – something you get very little of with four young children!
You give so much to others, what do you do to take care of yourself?
I’ve definitely learned to say “no” more often and not try to be all things to all people. Oh, and I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore – I’d rather pick up a good book, or watch a good tv show than worry about the state of the house or the children’s rooms!
Thank you for sharing, Julia.
Let Julia inspire you a little bit more…
on the blog
and on facebook
and get your hands on a copy of her book here