On August 11, 2015, Julie Dombo’s life was forever changed in an instant. She was shopping at an AT&T store in Derby when a most unfortunate event unfolded—the store was robbed, and, in the process, Julie was shot in the chest by the robber.
Luckily, she would survive the gunshot wound, but it was severe and had a lasting impact on her life. Her blood loss was so great that she experienced cell death in her extremities, which let to the amputation of both her hands and feet. She spent the next several months learning how to live without some of her most useful body parts, and she’s still navigating the path to gaining her independence back.
But the gunshot wound was not done affecting her life. Julie’s doctors believe the acute stress caused by that event also contributed to her next life-or-death health struggle: cancer.
“They said the cells in my body went haywire when the body had to restart,” says Julie, who has no family history of cancer.
Julie’s cancer battle began during the 2017 Thanksgiving holiday. She was visiting her daughter, Aimee Desmond, in New York City, and Aimee was helping her bathe because she’s unable to do it on her own without hands or feet. That’s when Aimee discovered a lump high up on her mother’s chest and suggested she get it checked out.
Julie went to her doctor to have the lump examined when she returned to her home in Wichita, but she was not expecting the results, especially since a routine mammogram a few months earlier hadn’t found anything. She was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, which the mammogram hadn’t picked up due to its high placement on Julie’s chest.
“At first I was mad,” Julie says. “‘Why me?’ And then I thought ‘why not me?’ Why do I think I’m not going to get cancer just because I’m a quad amputee?”
Luckily, however, the tumor was still in the early stages of growth, so Julie knew it was likely she could be cured, and she had the option to have a simple lumpectomy rather than a full mastectomy. She chose the first option, saying, “If I can get by without any more amputations, that would be great.”
Following her surgery, Julie underwent radiation and then chemotherapy treatment. She was even able to keep her hair for her daughter’s wedding in June of 2018 in Cancun so she could feel like herself while she and her husband, John, were walking their little girl down the aisle.
In February 2019, Julie finished her final treatment. She’s a survivor of not only a gunshot and a quadruple amputation but now also breast cancer, and she’s not letting any of it stop her from living a full and wonderful life!
Julie’s shooter, James M. Phillips, was found guilty in 2016 and is serving a 31-year prison sentence for the shooting, on top of 23 years for the robbery, although he was acquitted of additional charges, including 5 counts of aggravated robbery and 14 counts of kidnapping.
Julie and her family were devastated by the acquittals but are happy to have Phillips behind bars and are working on moving on with their lives and traveling more. “I just try to accept the things I cannot change and I’m grateful for what I have,” says Julie.
Would you be this brave in the face of so many obstacles? Share this story if Julie’s hard work and determination has inspired you to keep going in the face of hardship!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?