Julie McCrossin once described her job as ‘talking for a living’. For more than 20 years her voice has delivered us some truly inspiring, informative and amusing interviews over the airwaves. But in 2013 she was forced to stop talking – and start fighting for her life. Diagnosed with Stage 4 throat cancer, Julie lost the capacity to use her voice as she underwent over a month of intense radiation and chemotherapy.
“It’s very confronting to be perfectly well and then lose over 20 kilograms in a month and lose your voice. People say ‘Oh, you work with your voice, that must have been so hard’ but I remember saying to my specialist ‘If you need to take my voice in order to keep me alive – then take it,” Julie said.
According to the Cancer Council of New South Wales, about 4000 people in Australia (70% men and 30% women) are diagnosed with a type of head and neck cancer each year. This includes about 1100 people diagnosed with an oral cancer (mouth and tongue); 900 with lip cancer; 300 with salivary gland cancer; 700 with pharyngeal cancer; 600 with laryngeal cancer; and 150 with nasal or paranasal sinus cancer.
For Julie, the symptoms were not overly dramatic – she just had a sore throat. Initially her GP dismissed it as some form of the flu but, going with her gut-feeling that something wasn’t quite right, Julie decided to send a letter to an ENT specialist.
“If I hadn’t written to that doctor, I probably wouldn’t be alive today,” she said.
Despite the success of her treatment, Julie says that cancer is not something you bounce-back from with ease.
“A year and a half out of treatment isn’t as far out as you think. I get checked every three months and that will go on for five years. While I feel incredibly lucky to be in a country where there’s that level of care, the reality is that every three months I have to enter the world of cancer,” Julie said.
Like many of those who have battled cancer, Julie says the illness has taken its toll on her mental health. For the first time in her life she has had to deal with depression.
“I’m 60 this year and I’ve never had any form of depression but I’ve now learnt that it’s quite a common condition for cancer survivors. Physically I’m much stronger. I can swallow food and put on weight which feels fabulous but I think psychologically I’m still dealing with it,” she said.
According to Cancer Australia, the illness can also cause depression and mental health issues for those close to the person undergoing treatment or in remission. If you would like more information and support, head to the website.