If Julie's face looks familiar, it's likely because you've seen her adorning your screen on the Nine Network or Sky News Australia. But as well as being an accomplished freelance journalist, Julie is also an Ambassador for Endometriosis Australia - a cause particularly close to her heart.
Julie was kind enough to speak to us about her experience with endometriosis – including the thirteen surgeries she’s endured, and why the only way ahead is with optimism.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like?
I was born in the far west of New South Wales in the town of Broken Hill. I had a wonderful country upbringing, living with my mother, and spent every waking minute with my horses. We were so lucky to have stables in our backyard, and like most country kids, I took it for granted. I was surrounded by love, laughter and animals. My favourite memories, are the long, hot summer nights. And the stars! The stars in Broken Hill are truly magical.
When did you start experiencing symptoms that you would go on to understand was due to endometriosis?
I remember being in my late teens when I started to really struggle. I would pass out from pain, have severe cramping, my body just wasn’t right and there was no way I could understand or explain what was happening.
How did your diagnosis come about? Was it a challenge to be taken seriously by doctors?
I was working as a Cadet journalist at the Forbes Advocate, in the state’s Central West, when I was nineteen. I remember not being able to move some mornings, having such severe cramping and pain. I’d black out and wake up on the floor, I’d have severe bleeding, and sharp stabbing pains. I would visit my GP time and time again to try and convince them that something wasn’t right. I was tested for all sorts of conditions, to be honest, a lot of the time I felt like it was all in my head. Eventually, I got a referral to a gynaecologist.
What happened next? Can you talk us through the challenges you’ve experienced and the surgeries you’ve had to endure?
It took the gynaecologist just a matter of minutes to say the word ‘Endometriosis’. I’d never heard of the term, it sort of just washed over me because it was so foreign. He recommended I have a Laparoscopy D&C so at 19, I had my first surgery. It was awful. What I thought was going to be a simple day surgery, ended up being something entirely different – a punctured stomach, days in hospital. And it marked the beginning of quite the journey. This year I will have my 13th, and hopefully final, surgery to treat this disease.
What is the outlook like for you when it comes to your fertility?
I’m staying optimistic! I’ve battled enough over the years with this condition – I’m hopeful there will be a silver lining. There has to be. I have a wonderful surgeon at North Shore Private who I trust implicitly and there’s been nothing to say we won’t be fortunate enough to start a family naturally. All I can do right now, is look after myself and listen to my body. Live a healthy life, be active and be kind when it’s needed.
How have you gone about processing this?
I’ve had almost fifteen years to process Endo and the impact it’s having on my life. Ironically, it’s only been in the last few years the gravity of the situation has sunk in. For so long I would say it was ‘Future Julie’s’ problem … well, now I’m ‘Future Julie’ and now I have to deal with it.
How has this impacted your relationship?
I think it impacts all relationships to be honest. I’ve missed so many occasions with friends and family because I’ve been physically unwell, even mentally and emotionally unwell. It’s not just the pain of this disease, I has so many other ramifications. But I’m one of the lucky ones – I have an incredible fiancé who is by my side throughout it all – people will never know how challenging it can be behind closed doors. I also have the most wonderful family, friends and colleagues who have, over the years, done their best to learn and understand what Endo is all about. Not everyone has such a strong support network. I don’t know how I’d get through without mine.
What will the process be like if you start to try to have a baby?
As I said, I’m being optimistic. I feel it’s been such a long and arduous road that surely there is a silver lining, it can’t have all been for nothing. We’ll keep working closely with my wonderful doctors and follow their advice. There’s nothing to say we won’t have our chance.
How do you take care of yourself today?
These days I listen to my body a lot more and I don’t feel guilty saying ‘no’ to things. If I think a certain job or outing is too much on that particular day, then it’s too much. I try to eat well, exercise often and eliminate any inflammatory foods/drinks. I go to yoga once a week and that’s a course specifically for managing pelvic pain. I also talk about it a lot more, I’m more upfront and honest with people. Which is quite cathartic. Work is always busy but I do try to slow down where I can.
What has helped you during the most challenging times?
You can use heat packs, TENS machines, pain killers etc etc the list goes on. But during the most challenging times, I think people are the biggest help. I simply don’t know how I would’ve got through the last few years – which have probably been my toughest – without my fiancé. No one can take the physical pain away, but the emotional and psychological burden can be lightened with the right people around you. Friends, family, a counsellor, someone you trust. Just voicing the frustration, the anger, the hurt and confusion, can really make a huge difference.
Have there been any resources or therapies you’ve enjoyed/relied upon?
I was referred to the Women’s Health and Research Institute of Australia and I can’t speak highly enough of the team. I’ve really benefited from seeing the pelvic floor physiotherapist along with the osteopath. I also enjoy infrared saunas to help relax the body, particularly around the back. Swimming is also another therapy that can be quite nice.
If women are experiencing endometriosis, what advice or words of wisdom would you offer?
Trust yourself. Only you know your body, listen to it. If there is a niggling feeling that something isn’t quite right, follow your intuition. Ask questions, talk to people and trust your instinct. You’re not too busy, you’re not being a nuisance, and you’re probably not wrong. We only have one life, and one body, don’t take that for granted.
Oh. And you’re never too old to call your mum in the middle of the night crying. Somethings that soothing voice at the end of the line, is the perfect medicine.