|“I am finally happy after 40 years of not being happy. I have an amazing husband and grandbabies and a family … I don’t want to lose what I have because other than this, my life is amazing.” – Julia Collier|
The “sore spot” which appeared under Julia Collier’s arm caused her to immediately fear the worst.
“People said it was probably just a lymph node,” she said, explaining a tender place appeared under her arm after she had the flu, and remained after she got better. “I knew right when I found it. I knew from the start. ‘This is not going to be good.'”
Collier, 45, was born in Michigan and grew up along the Little Sandy River near Grayson as one of four children of Ralph and Joanna Steele. She attended Prichard and Hitchins elementary schools and was home schooled to complete her high school education.
She is a familiar face in Grayson, partially as a result of many jobs working with the public. “I started working at Ralph’s when I was 15. Ralph was still alive then,” she said, adding her brothers and sister also found their first jobs at Grayson’s Food Fair store. “We all started at Ralph’s, Everybody did I think!” Collier also worked at Big Value, and later Super Quick until she gave birth to her daughter, Kendra, who now owns Kendra’s Korner in Grayson.
“I stayed home for a few years with Kendra,” she said, adding she eventually went back to work at First National Bank, where she stayed for nine years until a health scare caused her to leave the job. She also worked as a bailiff in the Carter County Justice Center.
Julia and husband, Tony, were married April 19, 2013 but actually met 30 years ago when her future husband flew remote-control airplanes with her father.
|Tony and Julia Collier at their combination studio and office in Grayson. The remote-control airplane was a birthday gift from Julia to Tony.|
Collier’s breast cancer diagnosis was confirmed through a series of scans and biopsies, she said, noting she has completed most of the 12 rounds of her second wave of chemotherapy. “I only have four of those left. I’m down to the home stretch.”
Collier recalled her hair began falling out “by the handful” after her second chemo treatment with a compound sometimes called “The Red Devil.” Her tumors also began shrinking after the second treatment, she noted. After church on Mother’s Day, Collier’s mom helped her shave her head completely, starting a wave of supportive head shaving at the family homestead. “My mom shaved my head, then I shaved my aunt Dana Hall’s head. Then my brother Ben shaved his head and my nephew, Alec, got shaved. Then my dad shaved Dana’s friend Junior Steele’s head!”
Crediting an incredible health care team, Collier said she has also been lifted by the prayers of friends, family and supportive strangers alike. “Grayson has been my support group. Everywhere I go people say ‘We’ve got you on our prayer list,” she said, adding her appreciation for family members who have gone above and beyond to help. “It has been hard, but I’ve got an amazing support group,” she said.
Other than hair loss, Collier said the physical aspects of chemotherapy have not been especially bad for her. “I have been really tired, but I haven’t puked even one time,” she said, later adding with a laugh,”You do lose a bit of your appetite, but I don’t let that stop me. I like to eat!”
As she prepares for double mastectomy surgery in October, Collier said she especially appreciates hearing from breast cancer survivors who were once where she is now. “They will do reconstructive surgery at the same time when they finish the double mastectomy and then I start radiation,” she said, “Yeah, I’ve still got a lot ahead of me.”
She advises anyone facing a similar diagnosis to “surround yourself with people that are truly there for you. Sometimes you may not like what they have to say, but they have your best interests in mind.”
Collier said her cancer brings many frustrations in different forms. Asked of her worst fears, she smiles and says, “Dying.”
After a pause she added, “I am finally happy after 40 years of not being happy. I have an amazing husband and grandbabies and a family … I don’t want to lose what I have because other than this, my life is amazing.”