Le Sueur County Relay for Life From caregiver to cancer fighter

By: 
Wade Young, wade@montgomerymnnews.com

Julie Harmon

This year’s Honorary Survivor of the Le Sueur County Relay for Life knows both sides of cancer.

For close to 43 years, Julie Harmon of New Prague has worked as a nurse at Mayo Clinic Health System (formerly Queen of Peace), New Prague Hospital.

She lives the role of a caregiver.

In July 2018, the role was reversed when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, a first for her family.

Harmon had always been mindful of doing self-breast exams and did so on the 15th of every month, her birthday day. However, a few days before a self-check, her husband, Jim discovered a lump.

“He said, ‘You’ve got a lump.’ Sure enough, I had a palpable lump in my left breast,” Julie said.

Harmon always gave herself the birthday present of a mammogram, and one was due. On July 10, a diagnostic 3-D mammogram was performed at Mayo Clinic Health System, Mankato. (The New Prague site now offers this service.) The imaging showed the lump as being “highly suspicious” of malignancy.

On Friday, July 13, the day of the Le Sueur County Relay for Life, Harmon had a biopsy performed. She wouldn’t know the test results until Monday, but in the back of her mind, she knew it was cancer.

After the procedure, like all of the years before, she attended the Relay in Le Center, proudly walking the track as a caregiver and proudly supporting all those impacted by the disease.

Only, this time it felt different.

“This time I felt very, very alone,” she said. “Then, I looked around and thought, ‘I’m not alone.’ I saw Ralph Hendrickson, Ralph Germscheid, and Mary Krenik. These are all people I knew from the Relay, or personally. So, I kept walking. Mary and I kept passing each other, then she asked how I was … and I started bawling. That started my journey even before I had a diagnosis. I realized for the first time that I needed to support myself.”

The Relay has taught Harmon, that a big reason people raise money for the event is research. She had two friends the previous year who had the same type of cancer. At the time, the treatment of choice was chemotherapy. S

he prepared for what was to come.

“After I got the diagnosis, Jim and I went to the Cities and I bought some caps I could wear. I looked at different scarves … etc. I was ready for that chemotherapy and my bald head,” she said. “I never had to use them.”

Harmon was diagnosed with two cancers: invasive ductal cell carcinoma and breast carcinoma with mucinous features in situ cribiform patterns. Research showed she could be treated by aromatase inhibitors, a class of drugs used in the treatment of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.

In just one year, the treatment of choice had changed for her group, postmenopausal patients. Harmon entered a trial through Mayo Clinic Health System Rochester and has had great success with it.

“I never had to have chemotherapy. I was able to shrink cancer enough that in January 2019, instead of having a mastectomy, I was able to...

To see more on this story pick up the July 7, 2022 print edition of The New Prague Times, Montgomery Messenger or LifeEnterprise. 

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