Julie Randall’s shock diagnosis of cancer turned her life upside down. Then she heard of an excellent treatment trial but its quota of 70 was full. Julie was determined to become Patient 71 and write her story, as she tells Julie Houghton.
How did you cope with being told that you were unlikely to survive?
Not well at all. I love my husband to the moon and back but when I was told that horrible news all I could think of were my girls. I was dry retching in the basin in the corner of the doctor’s office saying “my babies, my babies” over and over again.
When I got home from hospital and broke the news to my girls they were distraught, so I made them a promise that I would ‘fix it’. I didn’t know how, but I had to give it my best shot. I had to keep my promise.
What do you think helped you crack the ceiling limit of 70 patients for the trial, and become Patient 71?
Well, for want of a better word…harassment! I called, I emailed, I used ‘bribes’ and even offered the study nurse a place to stay and surfing lessons in Australia. You name it, I did it. I was a serial pest. I kept hounding them for three months, all the while my time was running out. I think they just realised in the end that I wasn’t going away and they took just one more patient.
What was being on the medical trial like?
I was always appreciative of being on it so I tried not to complain about anything. I had to have regular biopsies on my liver, which weren’t pleasant, but it wasn’t too bad. It was giving me hope. Hope that I could live and keep the promise to my girls. The hardest part was missing them and being away from my husband and family with such an uncertain future hanging over my head. I did have people coming over to stay with me at times, which was a blessing.
How did you find hope during this time?
Although the trial was in its infancy they had four out of 10 people responding, which was better than anything else I was offered. Chemotherapy was not going to save my life, but would just buy me a bit more time. I felt strongly that immunotherapy was the right path for me. It made sense to go on a drug that helped the body help itself to fight the cancer.
When did you know that you had beaten the odds they initially gave you?
The drug worked slowly but surely for me. My initial scans after six weeks of treatment were not great but okay, as the tumours had shrunk a little. It really wasn’t until I had the last scan that I knew for sure I had beaten the odds and I am cured. So it’s been a five-year journey.
What spurred you to write the book?
When I was going through my darkest times I promised that if I made it through this I would do all the things I had wanted to do, and writing a book was one of them. I had a big story that just had to come out. When you stare death in the face you realise that you only get one go at this life thing and you need to live to your full potential. Hence, I kept my promise and wrote a book. I wanted to be my best self but also help and inspire others.
What advice would you give anyone in a similar situation?
Take control of your situation and get someone who is willing to help you navigate. Ask questions, do research and think outside the box. Leave no stone unturned and, if you want something, don’t take no for an answer.
How important was it to have support during this whole process?
My husband Scott was my rock. Having the support of family and very close friends was amazing. I will never ever forget what they did for us and I hope I have paid them back by living to tell the tale.
Patient 71 is published by Hachette Australia.
Read our review of Patient 71 here.