As you know, every month www.nicolehemmenway.com will spotlight a new chronic pain survivor. For the inaugural honor, I chose someone who has touched my heart and changed my way of viewing life. Julie Hawkins epitomizes strength, courage and grace. While many of us have overcome remarkable odds, by definition, Julie is a miracle.
The Survivors Club
I initially met Julie five years ago through a mutual friend. At that time, she was dealing with an unidentified chronic pain issue that caused severe abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. For nearly seven years, her body had been creating unknown and widespread internal scar tissue. She had trouble handling daily activities and the medical treatments that were supposed to ease her pain only brought her temporary relief. Even as the pain began to consume her life, Julie kept a positive attitude. She always held onto hope that she would heal.
From our first encounter, I was in awe of her captivating and resilient spirit. Her smile brightened the room and her loving, optimistic nature lifted my mood. I knew immediately that she was a true chronic pain warrior, and that nothing would stand in her way of reaching her dreams.
Desperate for answers, Julie continued to search for her cure. Determined to live a normal, pain-free life was the reason she decided to try the same treatment that helped me, the STS machine. In order for the therapy to work, Julie had to endure a long, challenging ordeal of drug withdrawal. This was not an easy feat. For three months, the horrific effects of withdrawal ravaged her body. But she never lost her fighting spirit; Julie was a trooper.
As the withdrawal ended, the therapy she traveled fifteen hundred miles to try began to make her feel better. Slowly, Julie began to return to her normal routine. She moved back into an apartment with friends, finished college and started to work. It appeared that Julie had regained her health and her life; however, the improvements did not last long. Within a few months, Julie developed other pains and had difficulties with her gallbladder. Her body began to create more scar tissues again, only this time it just affected her liver.
It was as if her journey would never end. Despite being discouraged, Julie stayed hopeful. Having a brief glimpse of how life would be without suffering motivated her to keep looking for answers. She became more proactive and assertive in her recovery, adamant that every specialist listen to her. It was imperative to Julie that those treating her believed in her. After all, she understood her body better than any of them did. She knew exactly how her body was feeling, and she trusted her instincts. She listened to that voice inside her head.
Unfortunately, Julie’s story does not end with a discovered medical diagnosis and treatment. Seven months ago, at the age of twenty-six, Julie faced her greatest health scare. Without any warning, she experienced acute liver failure. Within hours, her entire body shut down; it appeared it would take a miracle to keep her alive.
Miraculously, Julie received a new liver and is now recovering. While there are still bumps in the healing road, each day she is getting stronger. Each day she courageously moves forward, remaining optimistic and grateful.
Even in the midst of setbacks, Julie views everything as a gift. She sees her journey as a lesson that not only taught her to always trust her intuition, but to also live in the moment. If Julie did not listen to that voice telling her to seek help because something was seriously wrong, she most likely would not have survived.
From this experience, Julie has gained a new appreciation for life. She realizes it is futile to stress or worry about tomorrow since nothing in life is guaranteed. It is important for her to live in the here and now: taking life day by day, hour by hour, and sometimes, minute by minute.
To quote her, “This is a great ending to a story filled with struggle, pain and unknowns. I have answers, I am alive, and I know I am loved.” I do not feel that many of us could handle such ups-and-downs with the grace, insight and humor that she has. She has overcome extraordinary odds, and I am completely in awe of her patience, faith and inner-strength. While she may not feel like a role model, she is one. She is a warrior who has battled chronic pain and a liver transplant with immeasurable dignity, bravery and strength. Julie is one of my own heroes, and I am proud to call her my friend.
To learn more about transplants or how to become a donor, please visit www.donatelife.com. To contact Julie or to help contribute to her medical expenses (“The Benefit of Julie Hawkins”), please write to P.O. Box 2241, Danville, CA 94526.