Julie Hoxworth is a breast cancer survivor. The fight was not easy, but it wasn't as scary when she was surrounded by the love and support of her family, friends and community.
Hearing a diagnosis of cancer from a doctor makes an indelible impact on someone, especially when they have two young children depending on them. Just ask Manchester resident Julie Hoxworth who heard those words from her doctor five years ago.
She was 39-years-old when she got the news and learned she would need both chemotherapy treatments and surgery to battle it.
Today, Hoxworth, 44, can call herself a “survivor.” And those two young boys who depended on her then, depend on her now as high school students.
It took a lot of physical and emotional strength to get to where she is today. Hoxworth credits her faith, family, friends and the community with helping her to heal.
“When I first heard the diagnosis, I wanted to hide and didn't want anyone to know about it,” Hoxworth said. “It was a strange mix of being embarrassed and having people be afraid of me and my family. I didn't want to make anyone anxious or feel sad for me or my family.”
Kathy Lukity, care coordinator for the Breast Center at Akron General Medical Center, said that the first reaction of many women when they hear the diagnosis of cancer is to go into “a meltdown.”
“Usually the first reaction is to cry,” Lukity said. “And then they need a day or two to assimilate the information before they can come back and do what needs to be done.”
A cancer patient's outlook plays a part in the recovery and the support system helps with the outlook.
“Knowing you're not alone helps,” Lukity said.
One of the people Hoxworth and her husband, Chris, talked with after the diagnosis was their pastor, who encouraged Hoxworth to open up to receiving help.
“I realized I could either go hide under a rock or be an ambassador for other young women who may be experiencing the same thing,” Hoxworth said.
Hoxworth prepared for the worst case scenario. She came to the conclusion that she was really happy with her life, her marriage and her kids. Her faith and prayers helped her get through the physical part of the journey.
“One of my core beliefs is that God is always good and I felt that he wanted me to make it through this experience OK,” Hoxworth said. “He allowed good things to happen during that time. The teachers from the preschool I used to teach at started bringing my family prepared meals, parents started giving my kids rides to football and school and my sister came from out of town to be with me during my surgery.”
Hoxworth's husband is a firefighter in Barberton and he was with her for the diagnosis, the surgery and every chemo treatment. His co-workers provided support by allowing him to rearrange his schedule.
“It's important for others that go through this to remember that the family goes through the disease too,” Hoxworth said. “I was able to focus on the treatments and recovering from the surgery where they all had to go on with their everyday activities and all the while worrying about me.”
Lukity said support systems vary for each cancer patient. Some have many people helping them through their cancer journey while others go through it on their own.
“It is important to have someone to lean on or talk to during that time. It is hard, for women especially, to accept help but they do like to have someone to talk to,” Lukity said. “The journey is scary and unknown and the exhaustion becomes overwhelming. If a patient can find someone to run an errand or take them to a doctor's appointment, they should accept the help.”
Hoxworth's family was central in helping her keep her attitude positive.
The community played a great role, too. Someone help her select a wig. Many sent cards and flowers. Her son's Boyscout Troop 118 helped with yard work and the school offered continue support for her two sons. Church members offered to babysit for her kids.
There was an event organized by one of Hoxworth's friends and fellow youth football mothers where the team members presented her with pink carnations and the cheerleaders gave her pink beaded necklaces during one of their games. At halftime, each of the players gave her a hug and the team took a knee for her. One of the mothers put together a scrapbook of photos of the day and Hoxworth continues to draw strength from that precious gift.
“I was pretty down physically then and could only make it there for half of the day. I was at the end of my chemo treatments and getting ready for the surgery,” Hoxworth said. “When you're down like that and then realize how many people care, it makes your body feel stronger and makes you want to survive,.”
Lukity said having a support system is better for a person's sense of well-being. It helps to have someone to turn to when they need help.
“The support a cancer patient receives during the journey is something they can look back on as a survivor and really appreciate all that was done for them,” Lukity said.
Even after the treatments and surgery, Hoxworth continued to receive community support. Her family also received a trip to Kalahari Water Park as a gift from the board members of the Red Cross in Barberton.
She recently participated in an event during one of the home games of the Cleveland Browns, “Crucial Catch Annual Screening Saves Lives 2013.” It's an event presented in collaboration with the NFL and The American Cancer Society and is held every year during October – Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
This is the fifth year for the event and it coincided with Hoxworth's 5-year anniversary. She, along with four other 5-year survivors, went on the field with Jim Brown for the coin toss at the beginning of the game on Oct. 3.
Her family got to watch from the sideline as the teams did their warm-ups. She was selected for the event because of a story her husband wrote about her battle that he submitted for the chance to participate in the event.
“I don't remember the hard times during my treatment, only the good things that happened,” Hoxworth said. “There are just so many good people in the world and there's so much to appreciate. I've never forgotten the support and caring my family received during that time. My hope is that someone that may be going through it today may read this and realize that they too can get through it.”
Lukity said those who are at their 5-year mark still need continued support.
“The survivors often think the cancer may come back and those thoughts produce anxiety,” Lukity said. “Getting involved with community support groups or doing one of the cancer walks can also be helpful because many of them have been through the cancer journey too and it helps to talk to each other.”