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‘I was on holiday when medics phoned to say my spine could snap at any moment’

Riding my bike along the beautiful country roads near my home in Bridgwater, Somerset, breathing in the fresh air, the fields golden under the late summer sun, I can’t help but feel happy.

I can only cycle for short distances these days and my running days are definitely over.

But exercise has always been one of my great pleasures in life and I’m determined to stay active.

A year ago, I was a super-fit, single mum-of-three – I have a son, Jacob, 15, and 12-year-old twins Poppy and Lola.

I was visiting the gym four times a week, training for a half-marathon and doing long-distance cycle rides.

I was also taking part in obstacle course races – tough competitor events where you scramble over obstacles, battling against mud, water and fire.

You have to be really fit to do these and one year I entered 40 races, even winning some of them.



Julie Rose with her children, twins Lola and Poppy and son Jacob




But all that changed in September last year. I was sitting on the sofa watching TV when I felt a lump in my neck, slightly tender to the touch.

After a sleepless night, I contacted my GP, who sent me for tests.

Despite being fast-tracked, it was still six weeks before I heard the devastating news – I had rare medullary cancer of the thyroid, the butterfly-shaped gland in the front of your neck that regulates your hormones.

I could barely take it all in as the cancer nurse comforted me; it was like my world had stopped. Covid rules meant I was there on my own.

But through my tears I managed to ask lots of questions and I was told that I would need surgery to remove my thyroid completely.

As a precaution, I went for tests to see if the cancer had spread, but my doctor said it would be fine to go on a family holiday to Cyprus I’d booked for the following week and that the surgery could wait until I got back.

I was staying at a lovely hotel with my mum and dad and the children. It felt great to have a relaxing few days with the kids to try to process the diagnosis.

The next day, I’d barely unpacked my case when the cancer nurse rang. “I’m afraid your cancer’s spread to your spine,” she told me.



Exercise has always been one of Julie’s greatest pleasures




Before I’d even had time to take it in, she added, “We’re worried that your spine might snap!” I just felt like screaming and running away – I simply couldn’t believe what she was saying.

It turned out that I had a large tumour at the base of my spine, pressing against my spinal cord, and they were concerned that if I did anything too strenuous, it could snap and I would end up paralysed.

If I’d been at home, they would have sent an ambulance straight to my house to take me for emergency surgery.

My family were sitting around the pool when I told them. We all sat there sobbing as other holidaymakers looked on.

It was my lowest point yet but it was decided we’d see out the holiday, then I’d go straight for surgery when I returned home.

I tried to put on a brave face for the kids but my mind was in turmoil.

I spent the rest of the week trying not to do anything that might affect my spine. I was worried I might slip or jolt it.

It was horrendous. I’d carried all the suitcases on the journey out there but travelling home, the kids had to carry them.

I felt like I had a huge sign over my head saying, “I’ve got cancer.”

I was only in my forties and the children were still so young. What would this tumour mean for my chances of survival?

Back home, the spine surgery went well but I’d barely recovered when, three weeks later, I had the second op to remove my thyroid, plus some lymph nodes where cancer cells had been found.



Julie raising money for Cancer Research with her friend




It took several weeks to recover from the operation and unfortunately the surgeon nicked a nerve in my neck, which had to be sewn back together.

It left me needing months of physiotherapy to get my mobility back.

I was so grateful that the cancer had been removed. However, because it had spread, I knew that this wasn’t going to be the end of my treatment.

In March, I was referred to the Royal Marsden cancer hospital and had a brilliant consultant, who helped me to think of my cancer as a long-term chronic disease.

This was a revelation and it helped me accept my cancer and live with hope. I drove home singing all the way after my first appointment at the hospital.

My cancer is terminal but I’ve been put on an experimental drug to prolong my life, which is working really well. If it stops working, which it will do at some stage, they’ll try something else.

At the moment, I feel incredibly well and I’ve been able to get back to some exercise.



Super fit Julie on her bike




A couple of weeks ago, I went back to the gym for the first time. I used to lift free weights and run for miles on the treadmill. Now I have to take it easy and I only did a gentle workout – but it’s a start.

With a friend, I managed to do an event for Cancer Research, walking two miles a day for 28 days. We raised £2,000, which I was thrilled about.

I certainly won’t be doing any more obstacle runs, which has been hard to accept, but it’s great that I’ve been able to go out on my bike again.

I’ve also learned to appreciate the simple things in life – spending time with my children and my partner, Martin, who I’ve been with for three years.

I’ve managed to get back to work as a freelance photographer and I love doing weddings, portraits and taking pictures of the obstacle races I used to take part in.

We’re off on a family break to Scotland soon. Martin thought we should wait until next year and go abroad but I feel I can’t afford to wait.

I know I’ll never be cured and I don’t know what the future holds.

But I’m pain-free and full of hope that new treatments are out there to help me lead the best life I can.

Julie is supporting Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life, in partnership with Tesco. Sign up for your local event at raceforlife.org – you can run, walk or jog – and help raise money to fund lifesaving research


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