By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN After a double mastectomy and eight rounds of chemotherapy, Julie Hammerback of Delano has every reason to be focused on her own well-being, but instead, she’s using her journey through breast cancer to alert others.
“Cancer can affect anyone at any time in their lives,” said 41-year-old Hammerback. “Please be aware of what your body is telling you, and do routine breast examinations.”
Friends and family are having a benefit for Hammerback Saturday, April 17 from 5 to 8:30 p.m. at the Delano American Legion.
The event will include a spaghetti dinner, silent auction, bake sale, and music by DJ BAD Karaoke.
“We have tons of gift certificates from local restaurants, artwork, homemade afghans, movie tickets, and gift baskets,” said Hammerback’s friend Carol Daniels.
The gift baskets have fun themes, such as kitchen items, golfing gear, perfume, horse-related items, gardening supplies, and more.
“We’re also selling raffle tickets for a 40-inch flat-screen TV,” Daniels said.
Pink bracelets with the words “helping Julie’s fight” are also available, at $3 apiece.
“Every little bit helps,” Daniels said. “Julie had several rounds of chemo, and then her insurance dropped her.”
Because of the cancer, Hammerback isn’t healthy enough to work right now, so friends hope the benefit will also help ease the strain of living expenses.
Hammerback, a Watertown native, owns and operates Sandjule Farm in Delano.
“I show Arabian and Saddlebred horses, and also have a horse boarding facility,” she noted.
Hammerback’s first sign of illness came in the summer of 2009. She gradually started feeling extra tired, but didn’t suspect cancer.
“I have a very physical job, so feeling tired a lot is not uncommon,” she said. “I found myself taking a lot of naps during the day and going to bed early, meaning 6 p.m.”
When she started to need about 15 hours of sleep per night, Hammerback, who has hypo-thyroid, thought that something was off with her thyroid medication.
The doctor adjusted her prescription, and Hammerback assumed that would be the end of it.
Unfortunately, she was wrong. In September 2009, Hammerback discovered three large lumps in her left breast, and numerous lumps under her left armpit.
“Two weeks prior, there was nothing there,” said Hammerback, who always did regular breast exams. “It was probably in my tissues.”
She was diagnosed with stage 3C breast cancer, which means the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.
Cancer is typically classified into four stages, with “stage 4” meaning that it has spread to other parts of the body.
“It was a very mean and aggressive type of cancer,” she said.
After her double mastectomy Oct. 15, Hammerback endured eight rounds of chemotherapy, seven of which landed her in the hospital.
“Chemo was horrible,” Hammerback said, adding that severe migraines and dehydration were typical.
She recently started radiation therapy, and her last day of therapy will be Wednesday, May 12.
This summer, Hammerback will have a hysterectomy, in order to prevent the spread of the cancer.
Because she had 10 lymph nodes removed, Hammerback isn’t able to lift much, as fluids will build up in her arm.
“I have to be very, very careful,” she said.
Hammerback’s mother, Sharon; sister, Stacy; and father, Harvey, have been helping with Sanjule Farm.
“I just miss doing everything I normally do,” Hammerback said, but added that “it’s only temporary.”
Despite difficult circumstances, Hammerback maintains a cheerful voice and a kind heart.
“I keep a positive attitude,” she said. “That’s what gets you through.”
Daniels, who has known Hammerback for 10 years, said that Hammerback is a true friend.
Daniels has spent the past two months planning Hammerback’s benefit.
“If you knew her, you’d know why I do it,” Daniels said.
“I want to thank everyone who has donated to my benefit,” Hammerback noted. “Our community is a wonderful place to live, and I appreciate all the support everyone has given me through this long journey.”
Daniels and a few of Hammerback’s other friends have placed donation jars at businesses in Delano, Rockford, and Montrose.
“She calls them ‘Julie’s Jugs,’” Hammerback laughed.
To learn more about the benefit or to donate to the silent auction, call Daniels at (763) 954-1375.