Living Hope – Julia’s Story
I was born in Santiago, Chile in 1949. It was a turbulent time in my country and the surrounding nations. The economic and political instability meant that living conditions were very challenging and sadly my home life was also very unstable. My parents had a very volatile relationship that was made worse by my father’s infidelity. My mother suffered prolonged periods of depression and anxiety that meant my brother and I were often left to fend for ourselves.
Eventually my father left our home to start a new family with his mistress. My mother descended into a deeper depression and she struggled to care for my brother and I. When I was 11 years old my brother and I were removed from my mother and sent to live at a Catholic boarding school.
At the time I didn’t realise what a blessing this was. I had been gifted a place at one of the most prestigious schools in our city. The nuns that taught me encouraged me to study hard and awakened a love of learning that remains with me today. Sadly, my family situation was not improving. I reluctantly left school at grade 10 so that I could start earning money and care for my mother. I continued my studies at an evening college where I met my husband, Braulio. We were married in 1970 and by the following year we had our first child, a son, who we named Braulio.
I continued to care for my mother and our son whilst also working and studying part time. In 1975 my mother passed away. Unemployment was high throughout our country so my husband travelled to Argentina to look for work. One day, whilst at university, I noticed an advertisement for study opportunities in Australia. I was so excited. They were also looking for construction workers to help with the rebuild of Darwin after Cyclone Tracy so we felt confident that Braulio would also be able to get a job. We applied to immigrate to Australia and in October 1976 we arrived at a resettlement hostel in Fairy Meadow, a coastal suburb 90 minutes south of Sydney.
We arrived in Australia with only $300. The day after we arrived, Braulio found a job at the local steel works. He was to be paid $110 a week. We couldn’t believe it! We felt so rich.
We lived in the hostel until our second son John was born and we were able to afford to move to a small flat located above a shop. Living in Australia took a lot of adjusting but I was determined to learn how to speak English, drive a car and learn how to swim. I also began studying for a Diploma in Welfare and Community at the local TAFE College.
In 1984 our son Braulio who attended Edmund Rice College, began attending youth group with some friends at a local church called Lighthouse Christian Life Centre. Our family had never been religious and church attendance was not a priority. Later that year a friend of mine from the Spanish speaking community invited me to attend a Spanish church that she was a part of. I was very impacted by the message and made a commitment to become a Christian. I was a smoker and drinker and felt guilty about this so within a few weeks I drifted away from the church.
In 1985 my son Braulio convinced me to come to church with him. I was reluctant but he was insistent. I was not sure that I would make it through the service without needing a cigarette so I sat in the very back row. The speaker was Pastor Bill Beard. He was sharing the story of his own childhood and I felt like he was telling my story. Like mine, his mother suffered from depression and mental health issues. His mother had committed suicide. Although my mother died from a heart condition when she was 55 all of my life she had threatened suicide. Her words tortured me and fuelled an underlying fear and sense of rejection that remained in my life even as a mature adult.
As Pastor Bill spoke, I wept. At the end of the service I went down the front to speak with him.
I recommitted my life to God that day and received my first Bible. I still have it. It is marked with cigarette burns, with the faintest hint of smoke, but it is so precious to me.
My son Braulio continued to ask his father to come to church with us, a few weeks later he agreed. He came to the morning service and then again to the evening service. That evening, he too gave his heart to Jesus. This year we will both celebrate 31 years as followers of Jesus Christ. The decision to follow Jesus changed our lives and has been the anchor of our family ever since.
In 2008 our eldest son Braulio married his wife Jess and 3 years later they had our beautiful grand daughter Felicity. He and his brother John worked together in the Internet service company they had established and Braulio and I were enjoying an easier pace of life.
Unfortunately, in September 2015 everything changed. The day before Fathers day I experienced unexpected and unexplained bleeding. On Monday I went to see my doctor and he ordered some tests. A few days later my doctor called and asked me to come in and see him and to bring my husband with me. I knew then it would not be good news.
The doctor told me that I had an endometrial carcinoma, a tumor that was 12cm in diameter. I would require immediate surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Even though I was in shock I did not cry. I told my doctor and my sons, ‘God is in control, He will fight for me’. After I had the surgery the doctors discovered that the cancer had spread. I was scheduled for 30 sessions of radiation and eight cycles of chemotherapy, three weeks apart. The effect of the treatment on my body was brutal. I experienced a number of complications that led to excruciating, abdominal pain. On one occasion I felt as though I was actually dying. The chemotherapy was not leaving my body, as it should. Instead, it was building up in an even more toxic concentration than intended. I didn’t think I could stand it any longer. It was then I remembered this verse,
“My grace is all you need.
My power works best in weakness.”
So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses,
So that the power of Christ can work through me.
2 Corinthians 12:9.
I decided that I would not be ashamed or hide my weakness because the greater my weakness, the greater Gods strength. From then on I reminded myself that when I was feeling the worst, God was fighting the hardest for me. Instead of rejecting weakness I would embrace it as an opportunity to experience God at his greatest. He would fight for me.
“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
My journey through cancer has taught me so much about God and myself. Sometimes I felt like I was on a mountaintop of faith but at other times I descended in to a valley of despair and darkness. The promises of God became my weapon and my hope.
After finishing the radiation treatment I still had six cycles of chemotherapy left. I was so ill however that the doctors decided to end the treatment. My body could tolerate no more. Even though part of me was relieved I was also anxious about what would happen. I prayed to God and He gave me such perfect peace.
The chemotherapy is an effective tool but my ultimate hope and confidence is in God.
I finished chemotherapy in March 2016 and in August I had a bone scan and then a CT scan. The doctors could not find a single cancer cell in my body.
I am so grateful to the many amazing medical professionals who helped me on my cancer journey. They were full of kindness, compassion and patience. I know that God used them to facilitate healing in my body. My family was an enormous comfort and support to me too. But my greatest source of strength and hope is my faith in God. I cannot imagine life without Him.