Life under the shadow of cancer

JULIA Pike should be an inspiration to cancer sufferers everywhere.Three years ago she was given just four months to live – today she is still here and is offering support and advice to others by setting up the Ipswich Cancer Aid Network.

By Jessica Nicholls

JULIA Pike should be an inspiration to cancer sufferers everywhere.

Three years ago she was given just four months to live – today she is still here and is offering support and advice to others by setting up the Ipswich Cancer Aid Network.

Health reporter JESSICA NICHOLLS looks at her nine-year fight against cancer.

IT IS a cold and wet November afternoon when a rather glamorous looking Julia Pike answers the door of her Stoke-By Nayland home.

Her slight breathlessness from behind her broad smile is the only thing that gives away the struggle she is facing inside.

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Julia is battling against breast and lung cancer, something which has shadowed her life for the last nine years.

Despite that, her beautiful 15th century home has a happy atmosphere, her two granddaughters playing in the kitchen after a family Sunday lunch.

It is the strength from her loving family that has helped Julia through this tough time and is one of the things that spurred her on to start up the ICAN group, which has just celebrated its first birthday.

That and the help that she had had at weekly meetings while she was at the St. Elizabeth's Hospice for a while.

She got together with another sufferer Jean Saunders and the two founded the group together.

She said: "Contrary to what people think about the Hospice I did leave it – it's not always a one way ticket.

"I realised that I would really miss the Wednesday meetings and the wonderful support we got.

"No matter how good your friends and family are you really need the support of people who have the disease as well."

The group, which meets in St.Augustine's Church, Felixstowe Road, Ipswich, provides guest speakers about a variety of things from occupational therapy and welfare rights to flower arranging.

Julia really wants to get to the people who need them but recognises that it is difficult for people to make the move.

She said: "Our problem is actually getting to the people who really need us.

"The initial step of picking up the phone and making the first call is always the most difficult."

Julia knows the emotional roundabout that comes with first hearing that you have cancer, and the peaks and the troughs of daily life from then on.

She said: "It is terrible for families – it is like you are living on a timebomb.

"The other morning I woke up with a temperature of 102. I have ups and downs and that is difficult for the family.

"Some people don't want to discuss it, friends sometimes find it difficult and don't know how to react to you.

"They don't like mentioning the word cancer, but that is something that I want to dispell."

Julia was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 51. She thought she had beaten it but then was given the shattering news that it had returned, this time to her lymph glands.

Since that day the cancer has returned four times and has now spread to her lungs.

The former antiques dealer said: "You get a sense of disbelief and anger and the feeling that you have slipped down the ladder again."

Three years ago Julia was given the news that she had just a few months to live, but she has battled through.

She said: "My husband would say it is down to sheer bloody-mindedness.

"But I have plenty to live for, I have a wonderful husband, three children and five grandchildren."

Her zest for life seems to have worked in her favour – as well as the arduous chemotherapy she has had to endure, Julia has also survived two pulmonary embolisms (blood clot on the lung) and three encounters with deep vein thrombosis.

She said: "It was the day after my 60th birthday and we had around 150 people here.

"I had been on a bouncy castle and the next day I felt ill and collapsed with a DVT.

"How I did not do that at the party I don't know – I do feel I have lived a charmed life."

Julia and her husband Douglas, 63, have lived in Suffolk for 37 years after spending some time in Nigeria where Douglas was working as a dentist.

While her three children, Rebecca, Amelia and Matthew were growing up she ran a nursery in Chilton near Sudbury.

Their life together was something like the TV show the Good Life, they made their own bread and grew all their own vegetables.

Now, her illness means she cannot carry on with her hobbies such as gardening, but she has refused to give up and adapts to as much as her body will let her do, often doing indoor gardening.

Julia seems strong and tough and won't let the cancer rule her life but there are days when even she has to admit defeat.

She said: "Cancer is not a static disease.

"You have good days and bad days – there are some days you just wake up and think 'I really don't want to get out of bed today.

"Some days one does get very low but I don't ever underestimate the powers of being able to talk to fellow listeners."

The ICAN group has already lost three members but Julia said that their loved ones had really enjoyed coming to the sessions and got real comfort from it.

Julia is continuing to battle against this cruel disease that can spring on anyone at anytime.

At the moment she is trying a new form of treatment, an alternative to the chemotherapy that causes sufferers to feel so ill.

She is seeing a doctor in London and the new treatment includes taking huge doses of vitamin C and vitamin D, she has cut out dairy products and certain mineral supplements and is now eating as healthily as she possibly can.

No-one knows what the future holds for cancer sufferers anywhere but huge strides are being made into research for new treatments.

For now though, Julia and Jean's hard work is offering support and comfort to anyone who might need it – and long may it continue.

n. The ICAN meetings take place on the first and third Friday each month between 10am and 12 noon.

They meet in the Bantoft Room at St.Augustine's Church, Felixstowe Road, Ipswich.

The group is set up solely for people with cancer and people who are in remission.

For further information contact Julia on 01206 262098 or Jean on 01473 313108.

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