It’s our final Life Lessons of the year – and boy is this a good one!
Let me introduce Juli – a remarkable woman who’s not going to let ANYTHING stand in the way of realizing her dreams. Take a read and be inspired – just like I was.
Are you happy at the moment?
No. But that doesn’t mean I am unhappy. I’m in survival mode. I had a rough year. In the spring of 2009 I was starting to turn into a 99 weeker on unemployment. I live in a tiny California foothill town, so jobs were hard to come by, more so then the rest of the state. The only work I could get was an on call bartending shift. I knew I had to do something and decided to take the huge risk of opening a pasty bakery. My dad liked the idea and offered to give me some help to get it going. Everything was going great until I went in for my 6-month cancer check up and found out that I was going to need my eighth surgery for vaginal cancer. I was okay with it because I am a veteran of cancer. It wasn’t a scary event. It wasn’t scary until my doctor informed me afterwards that I wasn’t winning this war with surgery alone and I now needed radiation. And I needed an aggressive amount. I just had to soldier through this and for the most part I did. I opened up Rucka-Chucky Pasty Hut three days after finishing my 30th round of radiation in November of 2009. I couldn’t even eat my own product. Oh well, what was I going to do, curl up and die? Not likely. I spent 2010 recovering as much of my health as possible and building my tiny dynasty. Maybe opening a bakery in a small town in the middle of a deep recession wasn’t the wisest business move, but I have managed to keep it open despite the staggering first year failure rate of restaurants. I am struggling with a lot right now but I don’t feel unhappy about it. That would be a wasted emotion.
If you could go back and say anything to your 16 year old self now – what would it be?
Diversify your friendships. When the cancer became aggressive I was abandoned by people I thought were my friends, but I also discovered I had some of the dearest friends among people who I had previously considered acquaintances. My most thoughtful and consistent friend is a 50 year old ex-bank robber who has spent most of his life in prison. During radiation he would bring me food everyday and make sure I ate at least part of it, and then poke fun at me 30 minutes later when the food made me crap myself. If you have a diverse friendship base then the sting of disappointment isn’t so sharp if you are let down; It’s like having a friendship mutual fund. I would also remind myself that looks may get you the job, but hard work and reliability is how you keep it. And to not worry about what people say about you. As long as you know you are living a life with values, then you will do just fine.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned this year?
To quit being a sheep and take complete control of my medical choices. I look back a few years ago and I am amazed at how little I was participating in my health care. I just got used to surgeries, testing, appointments and bills that I zoned out and it became my normal. I did not start asking real questions and demanding explanations and accountability until I got that call from my doctor after my 8th surgery telling me that that I needed both external and internal radiation. I was in complete shock because I had always been told that with surgery I would stay at a stage zero vaginal cancer. Now I was being told that even though I had done everything I was supposed to do, I was still losing ground. Vaginal cancer is very rare, it accounts for only 3% of gynecological cancers, and stage one has a 70% survival rate. It is not necessarily a given that early detection always means an easy cure rate. Even with the internet, information is sparse and redundant on this cancer. I soon realized that I was a one-person clinical trial and that I needed to take control. I chose to stop treatment after the external radiation because I believed deep down I was being over-treated. The empowering thing is that some of my doctors didn’t disagree with my choice. It’s all a crap shoot anyways and I am okay with that, just so long as I roll my own dice. I will never again be passive with my healthcare.
What do you most want to achieve in the next 12 months?
Everything and nothing. I really could use a break, some time to just call my own. I went from designing and building the Pasty Hut, to surgery, to radiation, to opening my bakery and now the struggle to succeed. Time set aside just for me has become a luxury. I wouldn’t mind having a boyfriend either. Of course I really hope that when I test in May I will be cancer free. That is a goal that has eluded me for a little too long and I think I am due. Having your health really is a gift, but I would rather concentrate on my plans for the Pasty Hut. I have just started shipping pasties and I should have my website up in a few weeks. I am hunting events and venues to get the word out about the bakery. I believe we have an excellent unique product that just needs some exposure. Fortunately I didn’t go into this business blind, so I have the skills to make it work. I plan to spend the year ahead continuing to promote the Pasty Hut and work towards hopeful success. If things go right I might be able to buy my favorite hair conditioner again by the end of 2011.
What’s your secret to happiness?
Living a life that creates awesome memories. If you were to gauge wealth by monetary value, I am not a wealthy woman. As a matter of fact I live a very modest and frugal lifestyle, but I have had a wealth of grand adventures, close calls and seriously unique experiences and relationships. Maybe subconsciously I have always known my life expectancy would be in jeopardy so I hit the ground running from day one. There is just so much to see and do in this world and I have a big desire to see and do as much as I am able. You just don’t sit around a campfire drinking beer with friends talking about that couch you bought 10 years ago; you talk about the memories. Being spontaneous, calling men’s bluffs and pushing the envelope has brought me many memories and I plan on creating many more.
What one ritual or practice keeps you grounded?
Taking my dogs on a run. Actually they run while I meander. I live in a rural community so I can just step out my door and pick a trial. No leashes allowed. Nature is a calming element in my life so this exercise not only keeps me in shape, it keeps my mind quiet if I am troubled. Sometimes I take the ipod if I am especially agitated and power Metallica or some other head banger band to beat down the worries. It works.
What’s your biggest regret?
It would be easy to say, “I have no regrets”. Some of the choices I have made in life didn’t turn out like I planned, but I don’t regret making those choices. I regret the choices I made which resulted in hurting people who cared about me. You can’t take certain things back and I’ve blown it a few times. I could blame it on my youth at the time, but in reality I was selfish and unkind. I’m glad I recognized that being unkind was not a trait I liked about myself.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve taught your kid(s)?
I really don’t know. I didn’t become my boys’ mom until they were four, nine, and twelve years old. They had been foster kids that I made my own. I love them dearly and they gave me such a gift by allowing me to be their mom. All of them are young men now. I’ve had a short time to try to correct such horrible wrongs. I hope I was able to teach my children that they were worth being loved. If they can find value in themselves, then they will have healthy relationships in their future.
What bad habit would you most like to change about yourself?
I really need to stop drinking so much soda. I cannot fathom that I can give up a 20-year cigarette habit, but I can’t quit my Pepsi. How ridiculous is that?
Aside from motherhood and marriage what are you most proud of in your life?
I like and trust myself.
When were you most happy?
I can’t put my finger on any particular time in my life when I was happier then another time. I believe if you choose to you can find happiness in any situation.
What ten words best describe you?
Sassy, brave, nurturing, witty, badass, kind, clumsy, private, smart, independent.
Juli Oates has lived in Georgetown, California for several years raising her three sons and staying active in her community. She is especially interested in helping at risk children living in rural communities and helping to protect sensitive habitats. She enjoys fishing, disc golf, trucks, backpacking and other outdoor activities. Juli is the owner of Rucka-Chucky Pasty Hut – – in Georgetown, California and tends bar at the historical Miner’s Club. She is also an example of living a full life while also living with cancer.