Julie Dombo knows a thing or two about overcoming adversity.
On August 11, 2015, she was shot in the chest during a robbery attempt at an AT&T store in Derby, where she was a customer.
Despite the severity of that bullet wound, she survived. But not without consequences. The trauma to her internal organs caused a loss of blood flow to her extremities, eventually resulting in the amputation of both of her hands and feet. She’s now one of only a handful of quadruple amputees in the United States.
A week ago, Julie made an announcement that recently, she had been battling even more adversity.
“Many people didn’t know this because I didn’t say anything, but I have been dealing with breast cancer for the past 15 months,” Julie wrote on Facebook.
The post came with a picture of Julie ringing, without hands, a survivors bell after having completed her final chemotherapy treatment.
Julie’s 15 month journey started over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2017. While visiting her daughter, Aimee Desmond, in New York City, Aimee discovered a lump in Julie’s armpit while helping Julie shower.
A visit to a doctor upon returning home to Wichita came with a tough diagnosis: Invasive ductal carcinoma.
“At first I was mad,” Julie said. “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?”
A routine mammogram the previous June has missed the cancer because it was so high in her chest. Luckily, her daughter’s discovery that November came in the early stages of the cancer’s growth.
Aimee’s discovery “probably saved my life,” Julie said.
Julie underwent surgery to remove the cancerous mass on Dec. 28, 2017.
She had to decide whether to have a full mastectomy, the removal of the cancerous breast, or a lumpectomy, a surgery to remove the cancerous mass itself while preserving most of the breast. Because the cancer was stage one, she and her doctor opted for the lumpectomy.
“If I can get by without any more amputations, that would be great,” Julie said.
After healing from the surgery, she started chemotherapy in February of 2018 and started daily radiation treatments for the entire month of July. She had her final chemo treatment on Feb. 22 of this year, the day she made the announcement of her latest battle on Facebook.
Her doctor told her that the cancer could have possibly resulted because of her gunshot wound and the trauma to her body that followed.
“They said the cells in my body went haywire when the body had to restart,” Julie said, speaking of her body coming out of a coma after a week in 2015. There was no history of cancer in Julie’s family prior to her diagnosis.
During the ordeal, Julie said one of the many things she worried most about was the possible loss of her hair due to the chemo medication she was taking. She said her physician, Dr. Pavan Reddy, told her that 95% of people taking the drug, Taxol, lose their hair and only twice have patients of his not lost their hair while taking it.
Julie’s daughter, Aimee, the one who first discovered the lump in Julie’s chest, was getting married in Cancun in June of 2018, and Julie, on prosthetic legs and alongside her husband John, were going to walk Aimee down the aisle.
Julie said that since her amputation, she was already the subject of many people’s stares. But for the wedding “I just wanted to look like me.”
“Every day I had a talk with God,” Julie said.
“I would say ‘I know this is vain, but just let me keep my hair. Just give me this one thing,’’’ she said.
“I had that little talk every day.”
Two weeks before the wedding, her eyelashes fell out, but her long, golden hair remained. Aimee helped her put on fake eyelashes and John and Julie walked their daughter down the aisle in Cancun.
“I was as happy as a clam,” Julie said.
All the while Julie and her family were dealing with the cancer fight, she also had to deal with legal issues pertaining to the man who shot her, James M Phillips.
Phillips was found guilty of shooting Julie in 2016, and is now serving a 31-year prison sentence.
But Phillips was tried on additional charges — 5 counts of aggravated robbery and 14 counts of kidnapping — from other robberies he was alleged to have committed in Wichita before he shot Julie on Aug. 11, 2015. Phillips was acquitted of those additional charges by a Sedgwick County jury on Aug. 13, 2018.
Julie said she was devastated by the acquittal.
However, recently Phillips was convicted in Tulsa County, Oklahoma, of robbing, with a firearm, another AT&T store in Tulsa just three weeks before the robbery where he shot Julie.
On Tuesday, Tulsa County District Court Judge Sharon Holmes ruled that Phillips will have to serve 23 more years after he’s finished serving the 31-year sentence for shooting Julie.
With Julie’s most recent battles behind her, she said she and her husband John hope to travel more now.
“We just put everything off for a year,” Julie said.
“I just try to accept the things I cannot change and I’m grateful for what I have,” she said.