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Cell War Notebooks: Cervical Cancer and Letting Go

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"I'm not trying to boast (again) about all of the great friends and family I have. It's just time to let go of the Pain. It's time to teach my daughter the beauty and strength in surrender; it's time to show her the absolute courage it takes to fight with all the power you have and then realize the Pain is not going to stop until you give it the word…. And when the Pain is gone, I can hear endless belly laughs on the porch and pretty music in the far off distance.”

--Julie Forward DeMay

A hot fudge sundae. The soothing warmth of a masseuse working her fingers into your muscles. Hearing shrieks and laughter from your child. Cherishing friends and loved ones.

Knowing your mortality is at hand.

Julie Forward DeMay was 37 when she died from cervical cancer in August 2009. She kept a blog for the last seven months of her life that offers an unfettered look into living, dying, and loving. After Julie’s death, her family published a collection of her blogs, Cell War Notebooks, that will break your heart….but will mend it right back. Julie’s mother, Jane Forward, tells us more about her daughter, the book, and the lessons of the journey.  Cell War Notebooks is available at Amazon. Learn more on the Cell War Notebooks Facebook page.


Talk about the title, Cell War Notebooks: did Julie come up with that name?

Her doctor told Julie in January 2009 that she had stage 4 metastatic cancer. Her cervical cancer had spread to her lung and chest wall.  She felt she was now at war with the invading cancer cells, thus the title of her blog was “Cell War Notebooks”.

Did Julie realize Cell War Notebooks would be published?

Her blog began as a witty, informative description of her life with cancer. She said, “I have so many thoughts swirling around in my head and they have nowhere to go unless I write.”  She had many friends and relatives all over the country and it was a way to stay connected.  But when the cancer progressed and her writing became more profound and inspirational, I told her it should be published.  She agreed but wanted any royalties put into a fund for her daughter, which has been done.

I read one of the blogs from July and was struck by the perspective she offered: She didn’t come across as a typical patient with a terminal illness; it seemed almost as if she was in control of things, simply stepping from one stage to the next, taking it in stride. Did you have that sense? Please tell me about her attitude, her spirit.

You are so right.  Julie was the third child born in our family.  Her two older siblings were very close in age so she was a fighter.  She was feisty, very high-spirited and determined.  Along with chemo and radiation she embraced alternative therapies such as an organic vegan diet, supplements, vitamins, acupuncture, yoga, massage, and meditation.  It was very difficult for her to accept that she was dying.  When she did, she put all her energy into preparing for that eventuality.  She wrote a journal for her daughter, an instruction manual for family members.  She planned the memorial service and a celebration of life in her backyard.  She even chose the urn her friend made for her ashes.  She was a remarkable young woman.

What are the main messages you would give to loved ones and caregivers who are going through this with a family member: what are the things the patient needs the most?

Julie was 36, married with a small child.  As her mother, living across country, I had to respect the decisions she and her husband made together.  I had to realize when it was time to visit and when I had to stay home. Her friends were amazing. They never asked, “What can I do to help?”  They just did it.   They organized meal drop offs, carpools, play dates for her daughter. They made sure the house was clean and the laundry was done.  They did not expect thank you notes, answers to phone messages or emails.  I think listening to the cancer patient is extremely important.  Each one is unique.  They do not need advice or stories about others.  As a family member or friend, you just need to listen.

What would Julie most want to say to our readers?

I know Julie would want her readers to realize that cervical cancer and other cancers caused by HPV can be eliminated. She thought that teens should be educated and vaccinated for the HPV infection.  She would advise young women to be vigilant about annual pap tests. If she were here, my daughter would tell readers to be determined, remain hopeful, and enjoy life.