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2-time cancer survivor spreads Valentine's Day love to cancer patients for 5th year in a row

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Posted at 5:55 PM, Feb 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-09 18:46:48-05

CLEVELAND — A two-time cancer survivor from Brunswick is giving back and spreading love for the fifth year in a row to cancer patients at University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center and Rainbow Babies and Children.

They say you never really know someone unless you walk a mile in their shoes. As Julia Oppman walks through the halls of Seidman this February, it brings flashbacks of all the other times she was there as a patient.

“I’m a two-time cancer survivor from acute myeloid leukemia and a bone marrow transplant,” she said.

Acute myeloid leukemia is a rare and aggressive blood cancer that requires a month-long inpatient stay for "induction" chemotherapy.

“I started treatment at Seidman for 30 days away from my children who were two and four at the time. It was very, very hard. Treatment was very intensive chemotherapy, lots of infusions, a bone marrow biopsy, a very extensive stay," she said.

She was diagnosed with the disease in October of 2018, at just 36-years-old.

“My world was completely turned upside down,” she said.

After months of the intensive treatment she described, she thought her last treatment would be in February 2019, right before Valentine’s Day. Oppman said she wanted it to be a happy experience, so she brought gifts for the doctors, nurses and other patients on her floor.

“They’re like your family because you’re in there for so long,” she said.

Unfortunately, she relapsed a year later and had to undergo a bone marrow transplant to save her life at the James Cancer Hospital at Ohio State in Columbus.

“Having the relapse and the transplant I have seen it all, unfortunately, but it definitely taught me to really care for other people,” said Oppman.

She turned her one-time Valentines Day gift into a caring tradition. Ever since Valentines Day she has delivered gifts to cancer patients at both University Hospitals and Ohio State.

“Specifically at Seidman, it’s the blood cancer floor,” she said. “I’ve received so many messages from people from the past just about how encouraging it was and just how nice it was to hear from someone who has been there and gone through so much.”

The care packages are different for different hospitals and she said she doesn’t want to share her secret of what is inside, but they consist of items she would’ve appreciated when she was in treatment and hand-written notes from herself and other.

She said many items are donated, too.

Chesley Cheatham is the director of community outreach and engagement for Seidman Cancer Center. She said the small bags Oppman drops off make a big impact, especially for the newly diagnosed patients.

“If you put yourself in the shoes of a patient who is having chemotherapy for the first time and you may be scared and not knowing what happens a little token of appreciation, or just encouragement goes a long way. A lot of times it is just so uncertain and to know that someone has gone through it and is on the other side and doing well it gives a level of encouragement that sometimes doctors and nurses can’t give,” said Cheatham.

Recently, Oppman’s body threw her another curveball: she’s pregnant.

“This is a miracle baby. Baby is due next month the end of March. This was a complete surprise. 5 years ago, I didn’t think having any more children was ever possible, especially going through a bone marrow transplant. They tell you no more children,” she said.

While she celebrates her bundle of joy, she hopes to never stop spreading joy and love to people who need it most.

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