- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2001

At the age of 21, when many young men and women are busy enjoying their fresh adulthood, Julie Ellis faced a life-threatening condition.
She had breast cancer.
"I found the lump myself. It was the size of a grape… . It was quite a shock," Mrs. Ellis, 25, said on a recent afternoon.
Four years later, after surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, shes the mother of a 2-year old son, Miles, the wife of Christian Ellis, 26, and a new homeowner in Gaithersburg, Md..
Also in her possession is a great enthusiasm for life. When a couple of physicians at the time of her cancer detection said she was very unlucky to have gotten breast cancer at such a young age, she instantly flip-flopped that outlook.
"I said, 'Im the absolutely luckiest person alive. I survived, and I want to live until I am 103," she says.
To raise awareness about the condition that almost took her life and that kills at least 40,000 women in the United States each year, Mrs. Ellis will participate in a 60-mile walk over three days called the Avon Breast Cancer 3-Day along with about 3,000 other walkers.
The walk will start in Frederick, Md., Friday, and end on the National Mall in the District on Sunday. The walkers expect to conquer 20 miles a day and will have sleepovers in hundreds of tents provided by Avon in Gaithersburg on Friday and Rockville on Saturday.
Organizers promise a "heros welcome" on the Mall Sunday afternoon as the walkers arrive.

Another four-year survivor, Carol Bleeker, 52, and her daughter Blair Cowan, 18, of Bethesda walked last year and found it so rewarding they signed up again this year.
"Its very moving. There are women there whose hair has not grown back, and there are people there walking for someone who is still fighting breast cancer," Mrs. Bleeker says.
Mrs. Bleekers cancer was found with the help of a mammogram when she was 47 years old. Physicians were able to remove the cancerous tissue completely, and Mrs. Bleeker never needed radiation or chemotherapy.
"Thats one of the reasons I am walking. I want to let women know how important it is to get a yearly mammogram," she says.
Some of the money raised by walkers goes to programs that provide mammograms to uninsured women, something Mrs. Bleeker supports strongly.
"Every woman should have access to a yearly mammogram," she says. "This disease is so insidious. You can feel great, as healthy as ever. You have absolutely no symptoms. But you have breast cancer."

The 60-mile walk requires training, and many of the participants either receive coaching or get together in training groups to make the long, sometimes strenuous walks more enjoyable.
Mrs. Ellis walks with a 30-member group at Seneca Creek State Park near Gaithersburg on Sundays. She complements the group walks with solitary ones several times a week. During the most active weeks, Mrs. Ellis says she walks about 45 miles.
Mrs. Bleeker, who walked 18 miles in five hours last Saturday afternoon in preparation for the walk, says its sometimes a challenge to find enough hours in the day to walk.
"Its harder to find the time to walk than to raise money for this cause. Most people have been touched by (breast cancer) somehow and are very generous," says Mrs. Bleeker, who works as a management consultant.
"Last year she was the youngest walker, and she took a lot of pride in raising $2,000 by herself," Mrs. Bleeker says of her daughter.
As have many other cancer survivors, Mrs. Bleeker has changed her outlook and approach to life.
"Being a cancer survivor changes your perspective… . I stopped rushing around so much. I now take more time for myself, and I try to watch stress," she says.
Mrs. Ellis says shes more focused on the things that really matter in her life and doesnt worry so much about the small stuff.
"I concentrate on my family, and I have reduced the stress in my life," she says. "I also look at things in a more positive way."
When Mrs. Ellis first detected the cancer, she sought information about her condition and support groups in which she could talk about her experiences. Most of what she found targeted older women.
"There really wasnt much out there for me," she says.
She wanted to know if she could nurse her son. Nobody seemed to have the answer. She wanted to talk to young survivors. She couldnt find them. She wanted to reach young, healthy women to talk to them about the importance of monthly self-examinations.
Through her own determination and courage, she was able to nurse her son for 14 months; she created a Web site with information for young survivors (www.angelfire.com/md2/cancersurvivor); and she hopes to reach young, healthy women through her involvement in the 3-Day.
"I dont want to scare anybody, because its certainly unusual to be as young as I was and get breast cancer," she says, "but I want to get the message out to young women that its important to know your body."

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