Too young to die: Wilmington woman remembers sister’s unexpected colon cancer diagnosis

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Ana Boudreau says her sister always believed she was destined to die at a young age.

"She always knew she was going to die young, always," Ana Boudreau said.

Even so, at 41, death was far removed from Julie Brown's mind in 2011. Even farther removed was the idea she might have cancer.

Julie and Ana were close, born only 14 months apart. So when Julie felt a knot below her belly, she told her best friend.

"She had been feeling a lump in her abdominal area," Ana said.

Julie, a pediatric nurse, knew she needed to have it checked out. A scan showed something was there.

"They told her it was a benign tumor on her ovaries," Ana said.

By then, the lump was getting bigger and more painful. Surgery to remove the so-called benign tumor revealed something far worse.

"They came back and said that she actually had stage four colon cancer and the tumor they thought was the benign tumor on her ovaries was actually colon cancer that had grown through the wall of her colon and she could feel it on the outside," an emotional Ana explained.

The family was devastated. Julie, a single mom, had to share some difficult words with her mother.

"When we went back to see her, she looked up at my mom and said 'I have cancer, mommy,'" Ana said.

So how did Julie not notice any symptoms from a cancer so advanced? Apparently, she did, but didn't realize it.

"She told me after she was diagnosed that she was having a hard time having a bowel movement, that she would have to straighten her legs to get any movement," Ana tearfully recalled.

Julie also told her sister that she had noticed some blood in her stool a while back, but her doctor said it was likely from hemorrhoids.

Little did either know, Julie was keeping a deadly secret.

"I was upset with her when she told me that," Ana said, shaking her head. "We tell each other everything."

Julie was also overlooking something else, a family history. Two of her mother's brothers were diagnosed with colon cancer. One died. The other survived.

Julie's chances of surviving her colon cancer were slim. She underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments, but the cancer was too advanced.

Doctors told Julie that, at best, she had two and a half years to live.

Three months past her diagnosis, Julie died over Labor Day weekend.

Ana, who is now raising Julie's son, Ethan, along with the three children she and her husband have, recalls the day Julie realized her days were numbered.

"I remember her looking at me saying 'how do you feel about that?'" she said. "I was like, 'I would give anything in the world to have two and a half more years with you.'"


Saturday, April 1, Ana Boudreau will co-sponsor a 5k race in honor of her sister, Julie Brown and Christina Gianoplus, a woman who also died of colon cancer at 41 the same year.

For more information on the race, click here.

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