At 39 Julie Carrillo was enjoying a life many would envy.
She and her husband Gilbert, a former professional bull rider, had been married for almost 15 years, and the stay-at-home mother was focused on her children - son, Chase, now 15 and a sophomore at Stephenville High School, and daughter Cheney, 14, a freshman.
But six months before turning 40, Carrillo was diagnosed with colon cancer. Since then, her life has been a whirlwind of tests, treatments, fear - and a whole lot of hope.
When Julie sat down for this interview, there was one thing she wanted to make clear.
“I don’t want anyone’s pity,” she said. “I just want to make people aware of this and tell them to listen to their bodies.”
Julie’s symptoms first appeared in October 2014 during the PBR Finals in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“I was having some stomach issues,” she said. “I felt bloated and there were some things I couldn’t eat, but I wasn’t too worried about it.”
Two months later while the couple was back in Las Vegas, the symptoms worsened.
“My stomach hurt so bad I couldn’t stand up,” she said. “It was terrible.”
Gilbert rushed her back to Stephenville and they immediately saw a doctor.
After a battery of tests and visits to various specialists, Julie was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. Doctors also discovered several masses on her liver and ovaries. She underwent surgery immediately and the doctors removed all but four inches of her colon and a large tumor.
The doctors told Julie she likely had cancer for four to five years before it was discovered.
She also has a family history of the disease: Her paternal grandmother died of colon cancer at 53 and her maternal grandmother died of breast cancer at 43. Her father is also battling pancreatic cancer.
“I knew I had a strong family history, but God knows I never thought I would be diagnosed with cancer six months before I turned 40,” she said.
Following the surgery, Julie began chemotherapy in September 2015.
“By December I was feeling really good, but for some reason I thought the cancer was back,” she said.
She was right.
Tests in January of this year showed another tumor on her liver, which was removed and followed by more chemotherapy.
During a routine checkup in May, Julie received more shocking news: The cancer had returned.
This time there were four non-operable tumors on her liver and a spot on her lung.
“That shocked us,” she said. “I was feeling great and I had no idea the cancer was back.”
Julie’s now undergoing aggressive chemotherapy in hopes that the tumors can be shrunk small enough that they can be removed by surgery.
The good news is that the treatments are working. The cancer cells in her blood stream have dropped dramatically since beginning the latest round of chemotherapy.
And that’s given Julie the hope she needs to wage this battle.
“I’m not dying, I’m living,” she said. “You can’t quit living while trying to stay alive. I’ve learned a lot from this, my priorities have shifted. I don’t miss any of my kids’ activities. My focus is on them.”
In fact, the family is planning a vacation with extended family and lots of friends.
And while she is keeping life “as normal as possible,” she has a word of advice for others.
“If you think something is wrong, go see a doctor,” she said. “Listen to your body.”