How One Patient’s Long Road with Cancer Has Shaped Her into an Advocate

February 4, 2021

pictured above, from left: Allison G., RN, OCN; patient Julie Campbell; Allison S., BSN, RN. 

Julie Campbell, 63, of Vineland, NJ, has been battling cancer since 2014. Diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) – a rare bone marrow cancer – during a knee surgery, she has undergone many rounds of chemotherapy and has been in and out of remission.

Now, recently diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) – an advanced cancer with a high likelihood of spreading – Julie shares how she became an advocate for her care and has persevered through a long road of treatment.

The first oncologist Julie saw for her CML made her feel uncomfortable. She searched for another provider and the next team she found, she stayed with for quite some time. There, she received a common chemo medicine – Gleevec – for nearly 3-½ years. While she was happy with her doctors, she, unfortunately, experienced severe side effects.

“My cancer was responding very well, but it made me feel terrible,” explained Julie. “I had enough of it. I decided I wanted to look into other options.”

At that point, even though Julie was in remission, her doctor didn’t want to try another medicine. Again, she returned to her research. Interested in clinical trials, she was determined to find someone who would work with her, instead of for her.

When Julie finally found the “right” care team for her, she was able to go off Gleevec and be observed for more than 17 months.

“During this time, I felt alive again. No more side effects that controlled my life,” said Julie.

All was going better than planned, Julie says, until she got into a severe car accident. Just three months later, her cancer numbers were on the rise. (While her doctors weren’t sure exactly what had caused it, it’s likely that the physical trauma and psychological stress she endured played a role.)

Well underway with a different chemo treatment, Sprycel – to which she experienced little to no side effects – Julie began to notice a lump in her left breast. She recalled a time years ago, when benign cysts were found in her right breast by Breast Surgeon Dr. Kristin Brill (now the Enterprise Director of Breast Oncology at Jefferson Health), so she wasn’t highly concerned at first.

“It started to grow surprisingly fast, and I knew I had to act,” continued Julie. “I knew right away that I wanted to see Dr. Brill. She had left a lasting impression on me.”

While she was prepared to have cancer, Julie’s greatest fear was that it was caught too late (and that it had spread).

Thankfully, it hadn’t.

Julie says she is currently feeling well. With her CML back in remission, she just completed her first round of chemo for her breast cancer at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center – Washington Township, and is set to start her next round in two weeks. Soon, she will have to undergo a mastectomy.

“I have complete faith in my care team. Dr. Brill and Dr. Ana María López (Vice Chair of Medical Oncology and Chief of Cancer Services at Jefferson Health – New Jersey) have been amazing. They’re truly the package deal,” said Julie. “Dr. Lopez has called me many times throughout the week just to check up on me. Not to mention, they’ve been so proactive in my care that many side effects have been prevented, and all others have been dealt with quickly and compassionately.”

Julie says that if given the choice, she would’ve never chosen cancer; however, she is proud of how strong it has made her, and she believes it happened to her for a reason.

“My attitude is 100 percent; I have such a bright outlook on life,” added Julie. “But I couldn’t have gotten this way alone.”

Julie urges those who have recently received a cancer diagnosis to find a strong support system, advocate for yourself, be transparent and open with your care team, and stay strong.

Julie’s had her fair share of “ups” and “downs.” Ultimately, her faith – in God and her doctors – is what got her through. Support groups were another driving force that helped empower her to take charge of her treatment.

“They helped me realize I wasn’t alone. I learned so much from people who were virtually strangers,” Julie said. “I found so many amazing people and made some great friends in the process.”

Whether you turn to friends, family members, neighbors, people online, or your providers, someone to lean on is a must.

“I’ve learned so much on this journey,” Julie continued. “I share my excitement and I share my sorrow. Sometimes life happens, and you have to go with it. I’m just glad I’ve found such great providers who’ve made me feel at home.”

To learn about the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center - Washington Township and all Cancer Services offered, click HERE