“Can you tell them I’m not a man?” Julia Collier asked as she agreed to talk about her ongoing battle with breast cancer.
Collier could not suppress her smile on a recent sunny day as she drove her vehicle back home for the first time in weeks, still sore from surgery but buoyed by her prognosis. Tiny wisps of hair, lost during chemotherapy, had already begun to appear on her head.
“It’s coming back in super soft,” she said. “I think it’s going to be gray, or salt and pepper or whatever.”
With even more hair appearing in the next few days, Collier said she feels good and has enjoyed watching her grandchildren and attending an 80th birthday party for her dad, Ralph Steele.
Laughing, she said the treatments and medical concerns were not on her mind as much as the fact several people had recently mistaken her for a man.
“I’ve been called sir,” she said, adding a waitress asked herself and husband, Tony, “Are you gentlemen ready to order?”
While continuing to heal from double mastectomy surgery, Collier is also preparing for reconstructive surgery with her medical team using “tissue expanders” to make room for the next step. The procedure to remove her breasts was necessary, she said, although it did bring mental challenges.
“A lot of the stuff that makes you feel like a woman, you’ve lost – your hair, your breasts … Trust me, I’ve cried and cried and I’ve laughed and I’ve cried.”
“It is hard. It is depressing. You’re kind of used to them (breasts) being there … and then you look down and just see your belly hanging there! I can understand why a man couldn’t understand what that is like.”
Collier, 46, will have to continue with medicines and therapies, including radiation, for a long time, but she now measures the doses differently.
“I was going to have to take pills for 10 years, but I only have to take five years of them instead of 10. I have to take a shot to shut my ovaries down (her cancer is estrogen positive), but when I have my ovaries removed then I don’t have to get the shot anymore. It knocks me straight into menopause,” she said, pausing before again offering a smile and concluding, “It’s letting me live another day.”
Story and Photos by TIM PRESTON
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