Julia's Story: "We're not alone in this"

Julia's Story: "We're not alone in this"

The past four years have been full of joy and excitement for stay-at-home-mom Julia Cathro-Oliver. They have also been filled with new experiences – some she never expected.

In late 2009, a newly pregnant Julia had a series of debilitating, painful headaches. Encouraged to bring this to the attention of her family doctor, Julia visited her GP who first believed the headaches were a side effect of pregnancy hormones. Weeks passed and the headaches remained, so Julia’s doctor contacted a neurologist and described the issues at hand. An MRI was the decided course of action and what came next was something for which Julia wasn’t prepared.

A call from her family doctor, just days before Christmas, outlined the scan results and confirmed the news: Julia had a brain tumour. A visual field test with an ophthalmologist further verified the diagnosis. “I failed that field test miserably,” Julia recalls. “I was absolutely terrified and felt like everything was happening so quickly.” The large tumour was sitting on Julia’s optic nerve but because of her pregnancy, surgery wasn’t an immediate option.

New Year’s came and went, and Julia and her loved ones kept on with their daily lives, preparing for the new addition to their family. All the while though, Julia faced increased pain from her headaches and new, intense fatigue. “I remember being so tired all the time; I would sit on the couch to watch our son play and would just fall asleep. The exhaustion never let up.”

Throughout Julia’s pregnancy she had regular MRIs to monitor the tumour, which kept growing. Because of its size and the potential for the mass to burst due to pressure, even picking up her son to put him in a car seat wasn’t possible. The chance of a rupture also changed Julia’s plans for a home birth – there was no other option but to have her baby in a hospital, and under general anaesthetic. “I was heartbroken knowing I wouldn’t even be awake to see our baby, that he would come into this world alone,” she explains. A complicated delivery added to the stress of the birth, but after a one-week hospital stay, Julia’s new son was able to come home.

Busy with a newborn and his toddler brother, and recovering from a caesarean section, Julia now had to begin looking to her brain surgery.

Almost one year after the initial diagnosis, Julia’s operation was scheduled. The non-malignant brain tumour, a pituitary adenoma, was successfully resected. Regular scans since show no regrowth, and today, Julia, once reluctant to tell her story, says she shares her experience in hopes of helping other women facing similar circumstances. “My mom says I need to ‘own my story,’ so that’s what I’m doing. Back then I couldn’t find any information about what to do in my situation – pregnant and with a brain tumour.”

brain tumour survivor Julia and her childrenSince her surgery, Julia has taken part in the Guelph Spring Sprint (now Brain Tumour Walk) twice and plans to continue fundraising for Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada. Blogging about motherhood and her brain tumour experience at bearandlionmama.com has also brought Julia some comfort as she’s been able to connect with others on the journey with the disease, who are either survivors themselves or the parents of a child with a brain tumour.

“I think it’s great, that there is some connection that brings us together. And even though our stories might be different, it’s so important to know we’re not alone in this.”


Thank you Julia for sharing your story and for your help in raising awareness about the impact of brain tumours across Canada.
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This story was originally posted in 2013.

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