“You just have to find something to laugh about every single day,” said Julie Timmermann of Litchfield.
Timmermann was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer after finding a lump in her breast in July 2003.
“It was just one of those things,” she said. “I couldn’t believe I’d never felt it before.”
At that time, Timmermann was working as a nurse at Litchfield Family Practice Center for Dr. Jerome Epplin. She asked him to check it out for her, and he ordered a biopsy of the lump.
“I will never forget the look on his face the day the pathologist called,” Timmermann said. “He asked me to come into his office, and I knew then it was bad news.”
At first, Timmermann said she reacted like many do with a cancer diagnosis with shock and tears.
“It was July, and I had to buy school supplies for John and Hope, and my son, Colby was being married in September,” she said. “I stamped my foot and said I didn’t have time for that.”
But it is what it is, she remembers.
She was scheduled for surgery the very first week of August, and told her friends she felt like a wind-up toy going from appointment to appointment.
“You basically lose control of your life going from appointment to appointment, and that was one of the hardest things,” she said.
Timmermann’s youngest children were ten and 11 at the time, and she said they didn’t know much about her diagnosis.
“The first thing Hopey said to me was ‘are you going to die?’” Timmermann said. “I wanted to be so strong for everybody because their lives had been turned upside down too.”
Initially, Timmermann said she discussed a lumpectomy with her surgeon, but a coworker (Cindy Watters) suggested an MRI just to be on the safe side. While her left side was clear, they found another spot in addition to the tumor on the right side.
“I didn’t want to be a sitting duck waiting for it to happen again,” Timmermann said. “So I had a mastectomy done on the right side, followed by reconstructive surgery.”
After her surgery, she had four rounds of chemotherapy, which caused her to lose her hair, just two weeks before her son’s wedding.
Always finding a reason to smile, Timmermann had a cute wig made in Springfield that she wore to the wedding.
“The biggest thing on the day of the wedding was that they got married in the mountains of Colorado, and it was pretty breezy,” she said. “I told them they better hurry up with the photos or my hair would end up in the Continental Divide.”
Following her treatments, Timmermann spent seven years on anti-estrogen drugs to help prevent a recurrence of cancer.
“As of Aug. 5, I am 17 years cancer free,” she said. “And I’m thankful for every single day. Every day is a gift. It wasn’t easy, but a lot of things in life are hard. I may have lost my hair two weeks before my son’s wedding, but I was at his wedding.”
The first year after her battle with breast cancer some friends at Litchfield Family Practice Center invited her to the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in St. Louis.
“They had gone the year before, and told me that I needed to go,” she said. “I barely had any hair then, and it was so overwhelming. I kept telling them we needed to get to the front to see everyone. But when we crested the hill on Market Street, it was just a sea of pink for as far as you can see. So, we stayed back and just tried to take it all in.”
For several years after that, Timmerman’s husband, Bill, who owned Timmermann Implement in Litchfield at the time, sponsored a bus of walkers, and the “Cancer Crusaders” proudly joined the sea of pink for six years in a row.
“It was a great thing to do, and something I really enjoyed,” Timmermann said. “Since then, three of the women who went with us have had breast cancer battles of their own.”
Timmermann said that while it’s hard for her to stand up in front of others and share her story, she loves to talk to people one-on-one about her experience. She had that opportunity a lot while she worked at Litchfield Family Practice Center.
“I feel so fortunate that I had such great family, friends and coworkers on my journey,” she said. “They went through everything with me, the good days and the bad.”
One special memory that stands out from her time at Litchfield Family Practice is the fall they all ordered scarves and wore them on their heads for Halloween. She’s also grateful to her husband for renting the buses all those years to go to St. Louis, and said he loved “rallying the troops.”
“I’m lucky to have had such a great support system, and I still do,” she said. “My advice to others is to ‘never say never.’ It can happen to anyone at any time, so remember to be vigilant. Do those monthly self exams and get your mammograms. Don’t wait until it’s too late.”