Love and laughter in the face of death

 

She has just six months to live and 35-year-old mum Julia Domigan wants to go out "with all guns blazing". The corporate lawyer and public servant has ditched her usually cautious ways - approaching the life she has left with abandon, and using dark humour to accept her battle with metastatic breast cancer.

"If there's one last slice of cake left, I'll be the first to raise my hand and say 'That's mine, I've got cancer'," she said.

"If I'm going to go down, I may as well go out guns blazing and live life to the full."

Julia Domigan at home with her husband Joel and their daughter Aurora. Picture: Sean Davey
Julia Domigan at home with her husband Joel and their daughter Aurora. Picture: Sean Davey

Certainly Julia would rather not be facing death, particularly since giving birth to Aurora 14 months ago. But, presented with no option, she has elected to thrive and not dive.

The Saturday Telegraph has nominated Julia, who is married to decorated military helicopter pilot Joel, for a Pride of Australia award for her admirable resilience.

"Maybe I'm that 1 per cent who will get through it - that might sound arrogant but I'm OK with that if it gets me through it," she said. "It's all about perspective, we choose to get up happy or sad.

"Don't get me wrong, we've had some challenging times - Dad had a heart attack in January and Mum died of gastric cancer last September - but my terminal diagnosis has allowed me to focus on family and friends, and the generosity and kindness of those who have rallied around and shown me extraordinary kindness - it's bowled me over.

"I was 14 weeks pregnant with 'Rory' when I was diagnosed and given 18 months to live, I've got six left if the doctors are right. It's tragic but I'm planning, I want to have an impact on my daughter's life."

Julia Domigan with the family dalmation Cali. Picture: Sean Davey
Julia Domigan with the family dalmation Cali. Picture: Sean Davey

Julia has bequeathed 26 charm bracelets to family and her closest friends, honouring the parts of their personalities she would like to see nurtured in Rory - the boundless kindness of her mother-in-law, the fearless nature of her former army comrade and the staunch moral integrity of her best friend.

She has created a memorabilia box stuffed with her prefect badges, army beret from when she trained as an officer, and snaps from her student life through five degrees, including three masters and a Bachelor Of Law with honours.

"Rory will have no memory of me, she's too young, but I hope the friends and family who I've long admired will show her qualities I dream she will develop growing up," she said.

"They've all said they want to help raise her and be an influence in her life."

Some of Mitzi Vardill’s artworks that will be sold to raise money for Breast Cancer Network. Picture: Supplied
Some of Mitzi Vardill’s artworks that will be sold to raise money for Breast Cancer Network. Picture: Supplied

 

This worked is titled Abstract Pour #3.
This worked is titled Abstract Pour #3.

Narrabeen-raised Julia discovered lumps in her breasts when she was pregnant, at the same time her artist mother Mitzi Vardill was diagnosed with gastric cancer. She will next Sunday auction her late mother's works for an estimated $60,000 at Bayview Golf Club Mona Vale and donate the proceeds to support charity Breast Cancer Network Australia, which she credits for bolstering her since she was diagnosed.

Julia found lumps that are often confused with cysts commonly associated with pregnancy.

"Mum and my sister had them when they were pregnant, I thought I was fine but Mum insisted I get them checked," she said.

"I never for a second thought it would be cancer.

Lily Pond by Mitzi Vardill.
Lily Pond by Mitzi Vardill.

"When my GP told me it was terminal cancer, I was living in Darwin … I got a plane to Canberra to see my husband and cried all the way. You never think at 34 you're doing to die, and to get a book on palliative care, which I always associated with aged care, shocked me.

"You think cancer is an older person's disease but it's not - 3000 under-40s die of metastatic cancer every year Australia-wide."

Recent months have been packed with holidays and an extravagant 35th birthday party for Julia at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, where family and friends propped up the gin bar dressed as romantic war heroes. There have been trips to Alaska, Finland, London and Fiji, and weekends are filled with visits from family and friends. "These have been the best and worst times of my life," Julia said.

"It's made me see the incredible humility in people and, you know what, I'm the eternal optimist … call me in a couple of years and we'll have a wine and laugh about this interview - I don't intend to be another statistic easily."

Art auction details are at facebook.com/events/416898492348667/

Pride of Australia honours ordinary Australians for extraordinary acts of bravery, service or charity. Nominate an unsung hero at prideofaustralia.com.au


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