On the Record: Pink lady Julie Blake

More than 1000 women have been helped by the Tauranga Breast Cancer Support Service in its 20-year history. For co-ordinator Julie Blake, it's a job that every day, inspires hope

Is Tauranga Breast Cancer Support Service co-ordinator Julie Blake watching the Rugby World Cup?

"I'm really loving the rugby."

She sounds surprised.

"Because I'm not a real rugby nut. I'm sort of the person that sits there and watches some of it and then goes and does the dishes and makes the coffee, and comes back if there's a try scored. But I'm really liking it, I'm really loving it ... I get the paper every morning and I see what's happening.

"So yeah, go the All Blacks."

All about pink <inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="normal" enforce-sites="no" />

Blake has chosen a gorgeous, summer floral dress, in pastel pink, for her photo. And she fits right into the environment at the support office in Christopher St.

The upstairs room we are in for our interview is sun-lit and fitted with two maroon-coloured couches. A quilt, embellished with the breast cancer ribbon, rests over the back of the one she sits on.

A small crystal vase holds pink and white flowers; there's a pink tea light candle, pink pen, teddy bears in two shades of pink, pink T-shirts, a landscape painting with a pink boarder and a hot pink basket, tied with a hot pink ribbon.

"We're all about pink up here," she says, nursing a pink and white mug.

With the colour pink synonymous with the breast cancer cause, is it a prerequisite to wear it?

"Probably during October (Breast Cancer awareness month) I wear more pink because we have lots of events on," says Blake. "So I do have a lot of pink in my wardrobe ... I mean, it's not over the top, but I do really like pink too."

Blake applied for her job after seeing it advertised in the newspaper 10 years ago.

A former food technologist, she says she's made lifelong friends in the role.

She says most women, by the time they reach 50, probably know someone who's had a brush with breast cancer.

My gosh, what if it is?

Blake's grandmother died of complications from secondary breast cancer at age 82, and she herself has had a scare.

Three years ago, she had a stereotactic biopsy at Waikato Hospital.

"I've got what's called microcalcifications in both breasts, which generally are fine and benign, but they just wanted to check them out and make sure there wasn't any changes. It was a quite a funny experience because I was on the other side. I did have all those feelings of 'Oh my gosh, what if it is?' And you appreciate what people go through."

She says waiting to hear back from the hospital at Christmas time was nerve-wracking. The results were thankfully, negative.

For many friends though, the news has not been so good.

Blake attends many funerals and admits it's hard. But she's also quick to note, 80 to 85 per cent of women diagnosed with breast cancer survive.

"So you are dealing with lots of hope."

Optimism is important in this job. Even the clock-face in this room, is a smiley face.

Awareness has been raised around breast cancer and as a result, it is being detected earlier.

The youngest woman she has known diagnosed with the disease, was 28. That woman is now 31, and healthy.

"... What we try to get across to women (is) it's not a death sentence. The initial thought is normally, 'I'm going to die,' but that does quite quickly change."

The attitudes of the women she meets is "uplifting".

Not putting your head in the sand

"I've made really good, dear friends. It's been a great job to have, really. We do dwell on the hope aspect of it and most people will get through it and live beyond their breast cancer."

Has it changed her being around these women?

"Um, probably ... I think just a lot of tolerance, not judging people what they're thinking."

Friend of 12 years, and breast cancer survivor, Joan Dodd, says Blake is very quick to find the good in people and doesn't look for the bad things.

"She's a very loyal person; very honest; very thoughtful."

When Dodd was diagnosed with cancer five years ago, Blake went to her medical appointments.

Is she hyper vigilant with monitoring her own health?

"It's quite a simple thing to be aware of," Blake says. "You shower every day, change your bra every day. So, it's not hard to notice things and if you do notice things, it's not putting your head in the sand."

Do many women do that?

"A few do, definitely. They can ignore the signs for months and that's not what we want them to do. The survival rates are so good."

The Breast Cancer Support Service gets about 80 referrals a year, out of about 150 breast cancer diagnosis.

It is Blake's job to call women and tell them a bit about the service and ask if they would like a support visitor. Support visitors are all breast cancer survivors, all trained, and matched with women as a "support buddies".

A lot of empathy

Not all women immediately want to be referred though.

"Other people just want to hang back a bit and get their head around it and then they might become involved a little bit later."

Partners too, are offered support.

Longest serving trustee of the Breast Cancer Support Service, and breast cancer survivor, Sandra Gilligan says it takes a certain type of person to be the Breast Cancer Support Service co-ordinator.

"I've seen Julie many times talking to someone who has just been diagnosed, or starting what we often call 'the journey'. She just listens and offers a lot of empathy ... You've got to bring certain qualities to the job, and Julie is very competent. She's grown into this job."

Outside of work, family comes first. She is mum to Oliver, 19, Ruby, 17, Millie, 15. Her partner Michael Ramsey is a construction manager in the film industry and is currently in Waitomo - one of the locations on the set The Hobbit. He and a team spent nine months last year in Hobbiton and had two lots of stints in Wellington in the Stone Street studios.

Blake was born and raised in Tauranga and her parents still live here.

At 42, she was a model in Tarnished Frocks and Divas, and last year graced the Breast Cancer fundraising calendar as Miss March.

It must be quite a big thing to be in a calendar?

"Well, it is. Particularly when you're naked from the waist up with pink balloons. It's a huge thing. That's one to tick off the list, being in a calendar."

Does she have a bucket list?

"Yes I do, I suppose. I want to do some more travel and it's my big year next year, turning 50, so I've got a few things on the list. I guess my main thing is having happy, healthy children. Taking each day as it comes, doing enough fun things that make life good."

Blake is extremely pleasant and likeable but isn't finding it easy talking about herself. She's worried how I will fill a whole page.

We've talked a lot about breast cancer but not so much about her.

"That's okay, I don't mind that," she says. "As I say, it's not about me ... I just think that the people who volunteer for us and provide the support for other women, I think they're the ones that really deserve the recognition. It's not everyone's thing to do."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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