Julia Garford will never battle teams on the soccer field again.
Instead, the 23-year-old Courtenay athlete is fighting a battle to keep her right leg.
Garford was diagnosed in 2012 with a rare form of bone cancer called Chondrosarcoma, causing her to undergo several surgeries to remove and replace her right leg’s tibia bone, (a bone between the knee and ankle).
“I won’t be able to play soccer again, just because the shin is so involved in it and the tibia bone that they replaced it with, it’s a donor bone … which means that it’s very fragile and it can break easily,” says G.P. Vanier Secondary School’s former minister of sport. “But, if things do go well I’m hoping to get back into volleyball as much as I can, and basketball — I just have to be careful.”
Though the cancer was removed, Garford’s body has rejected the donor bone and metal plating repeatedly. After numerous complications, her most recent surgery appears successful, but she’s hesitant to hope because all of her other surgeries appeared successful, too, until they weren’t. She will find out in August how her leg is recovering, and if her body rejects the donor bone and metal again, she could she could face amputation.
Garford played on Vanier’s volleyball, basketball and soccer teams. She was offered basketball scholarships to Camosun College and Acadia University (Nova Scotia), and was invited to try out for Capilano University’s volleyball team.
History of leg pains
But Garford’s leg was bothering her even back as far as when she was in high school and she decided to attend the University of Victoria, majoring in English, because she worried the pain in her leg may get in the way of playing on sports teams. She continued playing sports in the school’s intramural program.
When she was diagnosed with cancer at 21, Garford was shocked.
“The first part was really hard,” recalls Garford. “When you first get diagnosed with something this crazy it’s overwhelming, so at first I was stunned.”
Depression set in
As the surgeries due to complications piled up Garford became frustrated and depressed.
“I couldn’t handle anything, and I wouldn’t see anyone. I basically locked myself indoors and wouldn’t talk to anyone,” she recalls, noting her family stepped in and urged her to get therapy, and she decided to go to the BC Cancer Agency.
“It saved my life, basically, because not only was I doing one-to-one therapy with a therapist that understood cancer and saw cancer patients all the time, but I was also going to a group for young adults. And it’s the only place that I have found where I can go and not feel pity or get awkward stares from people looking at my leg or my hip — because I have multiple scars on my body now from those surgeries.”
As well as the physical and emotion stress, Garford has also gone through financial stress. Though she has been unable to work for much of the past two years, and has had numerous ongoing out-of-pocket expenses — like pain medication, bandages, physiotherapy and travel expenses — she doesn’t meet criteria for various financial support options in place.
She received employment insurance for a short time and then income assistance for another stint, but she’s mostly gotten by thanks to support from her boyfriend and family.
Even if the latest surgery is successful, Garford will face a long recovery, and an account has been set up at www.youcaring.com/juliasjourney, with a fundraising goal of $40,000 to help Garford with expenses as she focuses on recovering. Garford’s complete story is posted on the website, too.
Garford stays with her parents in their Courtenay home periodically after her surgeries, but lives with her boyfriend in Victoria. If anyone would like to make a donation by cheque, they can make it out to Julia Garford and mail it to 1631 Ash Rd., Victoria, BC V8N 2T2.
A trust fund has also been set up. If anyone wishes to donate in person at any of the Coastal Community Credit Union branches they can ask for the Julia’s Cancer Journey Trust Account.
The two-year ordeal has prompted Garford to change her schooling plans.
“Since I’ve been on bed rest, I’ve really wanted to go to Camosun after all of this to do a course on health administration so that I can go work somewhere like the Cancer Agency because it’s helped me so much through this,” she says.