In Memory of Julie Branch

My mother, Julie, was diagnosed with Ocular Melanoma in 1994 when she was twenty-seven years old, and pregnant with my younger sister. I was only eight, and my brother only four, so one can imagine how terrifying it was for my entire family. I don’t really recall much except that people kept telling me, “Mommy will be okay,” even though no one really knew. She received a plaque radiation treatment. She came home from treatment in Philadelphia with a patch over her eye, but a smile on her face. My brother and I had made her a “Welcome home, Mommy” sign with my grandmother. She was so glad to be home.

After all of that, it seemed that everything went back to normal. She had a healthy, almost 10 pound baby and life went on. She went to her doctor every 6 months for blood work. Everything was great for us for almost 15 years.

In June of 2009, she had a pain in her abdomen. After a CT scan and a biopsy, they determined that her melanoma had returned; a tumor above her ovary, and lesions on her liver and lungs.

From the very beginning, she was determined to get better, and to do it HER way. She learned about clinical trials in Boston, and tried two of them. Her doctors took her off of the first trial because it was not working the way they thought it would. She quit her last trial in Boston in August of this year to begin a new trial in New York City, the MEK inhibitor. I truly believe that even though these trials weren’t doing what the doctors had hoped they would, they did prolong her life.

Unfortunately, after 6 weeks of traveling back and forth to New York City from Rhode Island, she wasn’t qualified for the MEK inhibitor trial. She became weakened from her perseverance, which seemed unfair to all of us.

My mom was never going to give up. Even when they sent her home from New York with a hospice nurse, she would say to everyone, “They told me that 20% of people get out of hospice.” She told my siblings and me that we would take it one day at a time. She wanted to get stronger and try and qualify for another trial. Her body, though, was in a much different place than her mind.

Now, I feel lucky to have had my mother for as long as I did. I read stories about Ocular Melanoma patients who have had metastases after 3 or 4 years. I was also lucky enough to say goodbye to her. I told her I would be okay, and I would take care of our family the best I could. I got to tell her how much I love her, and how I always, always will. For that, I know I am fortunate.

It’s never easy to say goodbye to your heart, your soul, your everything. But I know that the most important person in my life considered me the same in hers; because she battled the best she could. Not only did she battle for herself or for her children, but for her husband, siblings, parents, or even her future grandchildren. She is a warrior, and she is the strongest person I’ll ever know.

The Oak Tree by Johnny Ray Ryder Jr.

A mighty wind blew night and day
It stole the oak tree's leaves away
Then snapped its boughs and pulled its bark
Until the oak was tired and stark

But still the oak tree held its ground
While other trees fell all around
The weary wind gave up and spoke.
How can you still be standing Oak?

The oak tree said, I know that you
Can break each branch of mine in two
Carry every leaf away
Shake my limbs, and make me sway

But I have roots stretched in the earth
Growing stronger since my birth
You'll never touch them, for you see
They are the deepest part of me

Until today, I wasn't sure
Of just how much I could endure
But now I've found, with thanks to you
I'm stronger than I ever knew

A poem by Steve Luther

As I remember Julie, so young and sweet

Myself and Robert went for something to eat

But the deer were not fooled by our silent retreat

So we sharpened some sticks and to our surprise

The trout were swimming their demise

Then back to the house where Julie and Jill

Were warm and safe from any ill

Much surprised by our quarry of foe

Julie looked at Rob and said, “I married an Eskimo?!”

As years went by and more children came

Julie stayed steady and always the same

So sweet was her smile and always a hug

It’s just how Julie was

Now it’s God’s turn to hold our dear friend

A wife, a mother, an angel we send

I know she is safe in his arms

Goodbye my sweet friend

Rest and no harm.

PS: Tell Erick I said Hi.
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