JONESBORO — Fifteen years ago, Julie Fuzell and her husband Kevin took vows to love each other “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.”
Those vows were put to the test last February, when Julie was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Kevin, who she describes as her “devoted husband,” has been by her side every step of the way. He drives her twice a week to her radiation treatments at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, an hour away at Southeastern Regional Medical Center in Newnan.
“We have gone through so much together,” said Kevin. “I knew I needed to be strong for my wife.”
Julie said she discovered a lump the size of a walnut on her left breast in October 2011, but dismissed it. “When I found the lump on my breast, the last thing I was thinking about was cancer,” said the 45-year-old. After all, she thought to herself, breast cancer is not something that runs in her family.
She said prior to the discovery of the lump, she would often receive calls from her primary physician’s office, urging her to get a mammogram. But, the thought of her breast being smashed in a machine, she said, deterred her.
However, months went by and the lump was still there. She became worried and had a mammogram in Fayetteville. The diagnosis came as a shock.
“I cried and I cried,” she said. “I was expecting positive results, not what the doctor was telling me.” While the doctor was going over her results, all she could hear was the same unintelligible voice used when the teacher talked in those Charlie Brown cartoons.
The most difficult part was breaking the news to her family. “I was only going to tell everyone one time,” said Julie.
“I was sad,” said Sidney, her 7-year-old daughter.
“I didn’t understand what cancer was,” said Jadin, her 11-year-old daughter. “I used to always wonder why people wore pink and I would see signs everywhere. But my mom explained it to me.”
Kevin said many thoughts rushed through his mind. He knew life would not be the same and he would have to support his wife on her journey to recovery. He said after Julie broke the news to the family, it seemed every time he turned on the television, it was always about breast cancer.
Kevin said not long after Julie’s diagnosis, her father was diagnosed with prostate cancer and she had a close friend whose mother was in a hospice, dying from cancer.
“It was like one thing after another,” said the couple. “It was a snowball effect.”
Though so much distress seemed to surround the couple, they drew nearer to their faith in God and each other. As they talked about their situation, Kevin occasionally glanced over at his wife, with a smile and finished her thoughts. They exchanged light banter.
“We have always been friends and I wanted to be the best person I could be,” he said. Julie retains her bubbly, spontaneous and positive attitude. “She always been the type of person who loves to help others,” he said. “She has a heart of gold.”
He added it’s difficult to see his wife endure the chemotherapy, surgeries, and radiation treatments. “She has been through so much already,” Kevin said.
After she gave birth to Sidney, Julie was diagnosed with HELLP Syndrome, life-threatening pregnancy complications that include the breakdown of red blood cells, elevated liver enzymes and a low platelet count. The illness caused some of her muscles in her legs to deteriorate, forcing her to walk with a cane.
Kevin is a full-time engineer at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. He said working long hours and taking care of his wife and two “very” active girls can be exhausting. However, his devotion to his wife and love for God and his family keeps him going.
“Just like any human being, it can take its toll on you,” Kevin said. “Sometimes, I need to just take a break and recharge my batteries.”
He said Julie was bedridden for a while. Due to the chemotherapy, radiation and her decision to have a double mastectomy had its effects on her body.
“I knew what I was doing,” said Julie. “I didn’t want to take the chance that the cancer would show up in my other breast.”
She said she was getting dressed one morning and decided to wear a V-cut dress she had not worn in a while. She looked in the mirror and her 38-DD breasts, which once filled out her dress, were no longer there.
“I had a moment that I was not expecting,” she said. “I never looked at myself as cancer patient, until I saw my disfigured body in the mirror.”
Tears streamed down her face.
“I’ve heard that women going through cancer have a different reaction to many things,” she said. “You just never know what’s going to bother you.”
Kevin still saw the same beautiful woman he fell in love with years ago. “I fell in love with her, not her breast,” he said.
Julie has under gone breast reconstruction surgery and said she is a “happy” full C-cup.
Aside from her husband, Julie said her mother, Barbara Coleman, and her mother-in-law, Madelyn Fuzell-Taylor, help out a lot with the cooking and watching her daughters. “They have been an extreme help,” said Julie.
Both Jadin and Sidney said they also have pitched in to help mom around the house.
“I help mom put stuff away, feed the dog, and help her put her clothes on sometimes,” said the Jadin. She added she even helped with her with mother’s Jackson-Pratt Drain (JP Drain), which is a post-operative drain for collecting bodily fluids.
Julie said she has taken this experience and used it to be a help and inspiration to others dealing with cancer.
“I now understand why God allowed me to go through this,” she said. “God wants me to continue being me. The person who I have always been, Mrs. Happy Go Lucky.”