Julia Zigan tells her young family’s story in a sunny, warm room at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre (ONJ Centre) in her bubbly, direct way, interrupted frequently by her husband Guillaume with his quiet, lilting French accent. The two weave their words together, so in tune with each other and the cancer journey they have unwillingly shared.

“Life was going really well, Charlie was 3, Audrey was a baby, we had just been to France,” Julia explains. “Guillaume had knee surgery after an injury, and post-surgery he wasn’t feeling very well. He got worse and worse and one day he really felt something wasn’t right so he had a blood test.”

Guillaume was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, and in a critically-ill state, was hospitalised that day.

With two pre-schoolers and a challenging job as Regional Sales Manager for Mecca Brands, Julia remembers the panic she felt when told of Guillaume’s diagnosis

“I went into panic mode. It was that moment where your world just stops.”

Although he started on chemotherapy straight away, Guillaume remained very unwell and Julia describes the shock she felt one night when he called her from the hospital.

“In the first week, I will never forget it, he called me one night to say that everything was going wrong and he wanted to say goodbye, he hoped I would meet someone else and that he loved me. I told him not to talk to me like that. I was really yelling at him and saying ‘this is not you’.” 

After several weeks the treatment began to work and Guillaume began a long journey of continued treatment and hospital stays when he was too unwell to go home.

“At the end of the second round Guillaume called the doctors into his room and said he wanted the treatment to stop. He had terrible inflammation of the gut, he had uncontrollable nausea, he was in despair,” says Julia.  “The doctors told him if he stopped treatment he would die, the cancer would come back.”

Through all of this, time had not stopped for family life. Audrey turned one, then she started to walk, Charlie turned four, then it was Christmas, then Julia’s birthday.

What stands out for Julia during this roller coaster journey was the unconditional support of the staff at the ONJ Centre.

“The staff took us in like family, right from the very beginning,” she says. “The nurses would bring in blankets so that Audrey could sit on the floor or they would come and hold her so I could sit with Guillaume. They would heat up her bottles, they would take her nappy away, they got plastic gloves for Charlie to play with to pretend he was a doctor. They just did those little things that made my life so much easier.”

The Wellness Centre provided a non-clinical, homely space where Julia could take Charlie and Audrey to play with toys and read stories together.

“The Wellness Centre has always been a quiet place of calm, like a yoga studio but where you can have a cup of tea, look at the beautiful garden and find harmony even on the most challenging days,” says Julia. “The kids loved reading a story or sitting quietly with a little snack in there when we would go for a walk whilst Guillaume was resting in the ward. The centre has a beautiful energy and sense of tranquility.  Which is a much needed thing during a time of great challenges and uncertainty. “

After chemotherapy, radiation, a bone marrow transplant and a trial medication, Guillaume is now living cancer-free four years later. 

“Our life is now healthy and happy. We are so blessed, and we owe all of this to the incredible team at the ONJ Centre. It’s really important to us that we support this phenomenal place, our second family, and so we are forming ‘Team G’ for the Wellness Walk and Research Run!”

“It’s time for us to give back and support people with cancer and to help all the amazing staff who looked after Guillaume and my family at the ONJ Centre.”

Julia, Guillaume, Charlie and Audrey will be walking at the Wellness Walk and Research Run on Sunday 6 October at the Alexandra Gardens. Come and join them!


Author: Linda Ball / Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre