Adam Walker (00:03):
From Susan G Komen, this is real pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.
Adam Walker (00:16):
Navigating a breast cancer journey can cause feelings of confusion and fear. All of which are normal. There are healthy ways to cope with the stress caused by these fears such as mindfulness, meditation, support groups, or finding a creative outlet. Today’s guest has beat cancer, not once, but twice as a survivor of lymphoma of the brain and breast cancer. Julia Evans knows firsthand how important it is to find ways to keep the faith and is committed to encouraging, educating, and empowering those in the fight, through her nonprofit coloring over cancer. Julia, welcome to the show.
Julia Evans (00:51):
Hey, thank you so much for having me
Adam Walker (00:53):
On. I’m really excited to chat with you. Tell us just a little bit more about yourself.
Julia Evans (00:57):
Sure. as you mentioned, my name is Julia. I’m a California native. I live in the Los Angeles area with my family. I have three beautiful bonus children and two dogs. So I am the oldest of four girls. And I have had a successful career over the years, 15 plus years in corporate social responsibility.
Adam Walker (01:25):
Wow. That’s fantastic. That’s quite a resume. I love it. So from the intro, I mentioned this, I understand that you’ve beat cancer twice, so let’s start there. What can you tell us about your cancer?
Julia Evans (01:37):
Sure. I think first and foremost, something that’s unique to it is that I beat cancer twice within a five year time period. And for anyone who knows anything about cancer, having cancer, usually that five-year Mark is, you know, the threshold when the likelihood of a reoccurance drops dramatically. So for me having endured and, and, you know, battled cancer within five years and beating it twice was, you know, something that I still to this day can’t oftentimes believe that I did. But to your question, when I was in my mid thirties, I was working thriving in my career. I was having really, really bad headaches quite frequently, and went to the doctors and was told, you know, that I was suffering from migraine headaches or cluster headaches. I had never had any of those, you know, issues ever in my life.
Julia Evans (02:44):
I was healthy, you know, working out you know, four or five times a week. And my mother at the time was dealing with breast cancer. So I was really very conscious about, you know, the food that I was putting into my body that said I just knew something was wrong and they, they died. They diagnosed it with cluster migraine headaches. They put me on some medications that didn’t really help. But you know, I followed my gut, my intuition, something was wrong. So I went to several different types of doctors, ears, nose, and throat doctors. I went to, got my eyes checked. I went to the dentist, was like grinding my teeth. Like, why was I getting these headaches? Because when these headaches would come on, they were debilitating. I couldn’t even go to work. I would lay in my bed with an ice pack on my head.
Julia Evans (03:33):
And so none of the medications were working. I, you know, finally decided to see a third, I think, neurologist at the time and UCLA and he, and I got to talking in his office. I saw a picture on his his wall of him in Germany, drinking beer. I’m not a beer fan, but I like Belgian beer. So we got to talking about beer. Long story short, he said, before I prescribe a new medication, let’s do another MRI. Let’s check that brain. Let’s do another brain scan. And I said, yes, let’s do it. I got a call probably within 24 hours that I needed to come in and meet with the head oncologist at UCLA. At the time I was diagnosed with a rare stage of lymphoma B cell aggressive lymphoma of the brain, and it was stage four.
Julia Evans (04:36):
And I was told that I only had a few months to live if I didn’t act now, if you can imagine Adam, it was such a shock to me. This was January of 2012 and I was in complete shock. So I immediately took off work and, you know, had brain surgery the following week. Yeah. That was my first experience with cancer. You know, fast forward I had two brain surgeries following that initial surgery. The doctors decided to put a Ommaya reservoir into my school where they would administer chemotherapy treatments in addition to regular chemotherapy treatments. And you know, my whole world changed, you know, with, you know, within it, within a phone call instantly. And so I had, you know, about 10, I think, chemotherapy treatments. I had radiation treatments and three surgeries. I had staples, you know, down the side of my head.
Julia Evans (05:50):
I couldn’t draw drive. I couldn’t, I couldn’t do anything. It was a very humbling experience for me. And I had to, you know, go home and try to recuperate and really lean in on the people that cared about me. And you know, I, I, I survived and, you know, it was a blessing and then fast forward, 2016, my mother passed some breast cancer. And several months later, three days before Christmas, I got the phone call that I had stage two breast cancer. And so that was really, really hard for me. I frame it that way because my mother had passed from breast cancer six months prior after battling for about eight years, it metastasize and become bone cancer, but laying her arrest and then being diagnosed with the same thing that killed her was really, really hard for me. And like I said, it was three days before Christmas and I have to say I was really, really feeling quite discouraged. Wow.
Adam Walker (07:07):
Yeah, I can, I can only imagine that’s that’s so, I mean, I could feel the weight of it just as you describe it right now. I want to go back to something you said earlier about how with your first cancer diagnosis, you ha you know, you went to one doctor and they S they said desk, and he went to another, and you went to a dentist and you went to an eye doc. I mean, you really, you recognized in yourself that something was wrong and you weren’t satisfied with the diagnosis. And so, so you were advocating for yourself to find the right answers. So can you talk just a little bit about the importance of listening to your body of knowing in your, in your heart? What’s that there’s something going on and then advocating for yourself?
Julia Evans (07:46):
Yes. And, you know, I talk with women all the time, you know, whether it’s online or, you know, in like this, you are your own best advocate, and that goes for anybody you’ve lived in your body. I always tell people you’ve lived in your body, your entire life. No one else has lived there, just you. So, you know, if something feels off where, you know, if something feels wrong or, you know, there’s, there’s doctors out here who can try to help diagnose those things for you, but I always tell people be your own best advocate, go with your gut, use your intuition. I knew something was wrong. I didn’t think it was just a headache. Because I had never felt like that before. And I didn’t understand the symptoms that were occurring along with those headaches. So I was my own advocate, and I really do feel like if I hadn’t pushed and I hadn’t kept going to new doctors and, you know, found this neurologist at UCLA and asked the questions and kept pushing, I really don’t think I would have, I would be here today. I don’t know. So my, my message is that, you know, if you feel like there’s something going on, be your own best advocate, stick up for yourself, see another doctor after another doctor, after another doctor and try and rule out whatever it is, do the research and, you know, take, take care of yourself because it’s your body and you’re, you’re going to live there your entire life.
Adam Walker (09:16):
Yeah, that’s right. You are going to live there, you’re Italian, and you need to take the best care, but you can need to listen to your body and recognize what it’s telling you. So, so you mentioned your mother and her, her struggle with cancer. Does, does breast cancer run in addition to that in your family as well?
Julia Evans (09:32):
So interestingly we, I have three younger sisters, and so after my mother’s diagnosis and mine, my sister, my youngest sister we got the Baraka tests and they are negative. So it doesn’t appear that it runs in my family. Which is very interesting because you’d think, you’d think it would. So that was another learning lesson that just because, you know you know, think it might be hereditary. It doesn’t necessarily mean it is, and you may or may not carry the gene. So once again, you still have to, you know make sure that you’re getting your regular checkups. If you think that, you know, the gene runs in your family, rule it out, you know, and figure out, you know, what, what is going on, you know, with your family or your, or your body. But in my particular case my mother died of breast cancer. And I have several other family members women who’ve passed from cancer as well. But that Baraka gene was not specific for her.
Adam Walker (10:41):
So let’s talk a little bit more about that. How did losing these women in your life affect how you approached your own experience with breast cancer?
Julia Evans (10:49):
Yeah, so, as I mentioned, the last, my mother and I, soon thereafter lost my, my aunt to cancer my mother-in-law to cancer, and most recently my grandmother to cancer. And it’s, it’s hard. I mean, losing anybody is hard, but, you know, specifically losing your family members and people that you love and, you know, feeling helpless. And there’s not much that you can do besides try to make them comfortable and, you know, the treatments that are offered. But I have taken my own experience and try to turn it into somewhat of a positive and sharing my story to, you know, provide hope, to bred a sense of hope to people that, you know, you can overcome it. You know, there is there is, there are people that do survive, you know, stage four brain cancer and stage two breast cancer, and really sharing my story.
Julia Evans (11:50):
And, you know, I created a non-profit around this in hopes, sharing my story, being able to encourage other people that have been impacted by cancer, breast cancer that, you know, there are things that you can do to help pay it forward. And so I kind of look at my life in terms of my experience with cancer and how can I help? How can I pay it forward? How can I share best practices? The things that I’ve learned in terms of health around cancer you know, things sometimes that doctors don’t always tell you that are helpful you know, those types of stories that I think, you know, storytelling’s important, but, you know, your experience might not be the same as someone else’s, but you might be able to still help them and give them some, you know, real time life feedback.
Adam Walker (12:39):
Yeah. No, that’s great. So, so let’s talk a little bit about support systems. How were support systems helpful to you and how did they keep you strong through some of your hardest days?
Julia Evans (12:51):
You know, everybody’s different. For me, what works obviously I had some really strong fan friends and family to support me and, you know, they always say, they always say it takes a village. And even if you have a small village you know, I found it very beneficial to me to always have someone to go with me during my chemotherapy treatments. It can be very depressing when you’re sitting there for six, eight hours, you know, hooked up to a machine. And I saw plenty of people who were there alone. And you know, it’s, it’s a lonely experience. It’s a hard experience and you don’t feel well. So I definitely would encourage people that are going through it to have that support system work out a schedule where, you know, someone’s going to be with you, you know, or and find something that you enjoy doing so that you can keep, you know, a little bit of, a little bit of fun.
Julia Evans (13:48):
If you are a little bit of positivity ingrained into your life, even though you’re going through something so traumatic you know I like to be outside. I like sports. I like, you know, I’m a huge indoor cyclist. I like, you know, gardening, but all of those things were always, you know, possible when you’re going through treatment in your home and you just don’t have any energy after chemotherapy or surgery or whatever. So I found coloring to be very therapeutic and very helpful to me throughout my cancer journey. And so I, I turned that, that love into a nonprofit organization and it’s called coloring over cancer.
Adam Walker (14:36):
Oh, I love that. Well, tell, tell me more about that. What is coloring over cancer? Did
Julia Evans (14:40):
Sure coloring over cancer? Well, first I, I decided to do a coloring book and I hired, I’m not an artist. So I hired an illustrator to kind of help me come up with my coloring book. And it really is my labor of love to pay it forward to cancer patients and people who are impacted by cancer. It’s something that you got, you can do together. You can do it at home. It doesn’t cost a lot of money. It makes for a good gift if you don’t know what to get a cancer patient. And it’s, it’s my way, it’s my journey. And I’ll just hold up my book. I don’t know, you can probably see it, but it really is a book that I tell my story through. And I have a table of contents there’s a little bit different than some coloring books.
Julia Evans (15:32):
So I have first set of pages really talks about coloring over cancer coloring pages for finding out your diagnosis. So it’s 88, it’s 80 plus pages filled with coloring and positive affirmations. So I have a section where we talk about finding out your diagnosis and how you, you know, your thoughts and how you’re feeling about all those things. I have a section about pushing through, and this is when you’re like in the heart of your treatment, you’re going through it. You may be losing your hair your, you know, thinking about your body image. And then I have a third part about embracing change embracing the change that comes along with cancer and surviving cancer. And then the last piece in the book is survivor your last day of chemotherapy. And I know you’ve Adam, you’ve seen, you know, on social media, people holding up signs last day of chemotherapy. So I have a page just like that in the book. And then I also have some other pages that are just really about positivity affirmation you made it through. And the book is really my story, but it’s, it’s a way that kind of shares a cancer journey and hopefully through the positive affirmations encourages you and empowers you through yours.
Adam Walker (17:00):
Wow. I love that. I love everything you just described it, so it’s so wonderful. Well, so then my, then my last question here, Julia, is if somebody wanted to find out more about your nonprofit or they wanted to get the coloring book, w where would they go?
Julia Evans (17:15):
So it’s really easy. The name of the book is coloring over cancer and our website is www coloring over cancer.com. And there, you can find the book. I have a line of encouragement cards for people that they can share along with the book. And we host virtual coloring book parties. So I’ve done quite a bit of quite a few of those over the last year with, you know, COVID and, you know, cancer patients with their you know, immune systems being compromised. We can’t be in person, but we’ve hosted coloring workshops. And really with those coloring workshops, they’re free of charge. You just need to get the book, all the donations for books go to coloring over cancer, paying it forward so we can send books out to other cancer patients or hospitals or charities that are working with cancer patients.
Julia Evans (18:08):
And the workshop is an hour. It could be for a group of friends or, you know, with an organization. And I really talk about the connection with art therapy that, you know, the benefits of art therapy you know, scientists have studied that art therapy you know, can change your brainwave patterns, alter your hormones, your, your neuro-transmitters. And I think I read a study that showed the effect of art therapy for women with breast cancer down significant benefits and reduction of anxiety, depression, fatigue, and I can attest to that because I found it to be true for myself. So I talk a little bit about those things and, you know, in, in my workshop, I’m not a licensed art therapist, but I talk about my experience and how art therapy has helped me throughout this process and how it could help you to I love that. I love that.
Adam Walker (19:15):
Well, I’m gonna encourage our listeners to certainly check that out. And Julia, thank you so much for joining me on the show today. Thank you for having me. Thanks for listening to real pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen for more episodes, visit real pink.com and.org for more on breast cancer. Visit komen.org. Make sure to check out at Susan G Komen on social media. I’m your host, Adam, you can find me on Twitter at AGA Walker or on my blog. Adam J walker.com.