My Personal Cancer Champion

Anne Heimel

Julie Pope came into my life as quickly as rectal cancer did. I was a 39-year-old woman who had just undergone a colonoscopy to find out why I was having digestive issues. The shock of the diagnosis was devastating. Then, a few days later, my phone rang. On the other end of the line was a woman I had never met before who introduced herself as my nurse navigator. She asked if there was anything she could do for me, and I told her how disappointed I was that I couldn’t find printed literature about rectal cancer in stores. She said she would see what she could do.

The day of my first oncology appointment came, and I went through the long process of paperwork to become a patient. As I sat in the exam room, waiting to meet my oncologist for the first time, Julie poked her head in and said hi. She told me she had something for me and would be right back. A couple of minutes later, she returned with a bag containing several books on colorectal cancer, along with other books to help me through my cancer journey.
During every appointment, Julie would pop in to say hello and ask how I was doing and if I needed anything. She remains my point person for any question I have. Because my cancer required a medical oncologist, a radiation oncologist and a colorectal surgeon, I never quite know who to address regarding a concern, but Julie does. All I have to do is call or email her my question, and later that day she will get back to me with the answer. Julie also gives the best hugs ever, just as if she was your own mom.

Julie is also a champion in my personal life. She has done so many things that are not part of her job description. I was dealing with some issues in my home life. Julie suggested I try Al-Anon and even went to my first meeting with me. When my home life hit a breaking point, she was one of my first calls. We talked for what seemed like forever.

My home issues were a very low point in my life. Julie recognized this and gave me several other resources to use for help. She wanted to make sure that if she was unreachable, I would have someone to call. One of those people is the oncology counselor who works at the cancer center. Meeting with her possibly saved my life. Her help, along with the help of medication from a psychiatric nurse practitioner, brought me back from the edge. If it hadn’t been for Julie reaching out for help on my behalf, I don’t know what would have happened.

Julie has the same sense of humor that I do, which makes any time we get together a laugh fest. She gets my weird, crazy jokes, and I think that is awesome! At one point, I was upset about a nasty note written to me. Sitting with me during my treatment, Julie brought up the idea that I put the person’s name on my ileostomy pouch at my next change. I did her one better and wrote, “The collected writings of …” on my pouch and sent her a picture. She replied affirmingly with a message I can only imagine was typed while she was heartily laughing.

Julie is also one of two nurse navigators who started a support group for patients with gastrointestinal cancers. There was no other group of its kind in the area at the time. We meet once a month to support each other and learn something new. The sense of camaraderie is amazing in the group, which has been around for about 13 years.

Currently, Julie is helping me fight for my rights with my employer under the Americans with Disabilities Act. One email to her and she had the paperwork typed and ready for my oncologist’s signature. She eloquently summed up the special needs of a patient with rectal cancer when it comes to drinking, eating and bathroom habits. She also explained the long-term effects of the chemotherapy I received, which include neuropathy that affects my hands and feet. She was also concerned with my workplace environment as it stood at the time, and with my permission, she reached out to the human resources director to voice her concerns about my health and ability to work comfortably, without my limitations being seen as a detriment to my job performance. She is the mama bear that I need right now.

Teaching Moment:

All I have to do is call or email her my question, and later that day she will get back to me with the answer. Julie also gives the best hugs ever, just as if she was your own mom.

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