Within hours of a surgery to remove a cancerous tumor, Julie Kramer got up to move around, as the doctors had advised, and began dancing down the hospital hallway wheeling her IV lines.
“I was feeling something inside. And I was like ‘I’m going to make this fun,’” she told Ellen DeGeneres, while being interviewed on her TV show in December 2014.
Kramer, now a junior Communications major and a cancer survivor, was diagnosed after her 23rd birthday with stage IV Synovial Sarcoma, a rare soft-tissue cancer. After seeing that Ellen DeGeneres was looking to meet dedicated and inspiring women, Kramer’s friends and family started a social media campaign #JulieMeetsEllen in hopes that Ellen would see their tweets and share Kramer’s story of strength, courage and determination.
DeGeneres made the #JulieMeetsEllen dream come true. She “defines the word inspiration,” DeGeneres told her show guests and viewers as she brought up the video clip of Kramer dancing in the hospital.
Two of Kramer’s favorite things are watching the Ellen Show and the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team. DeGeneres gave her a $10,000 check from Target to help with medical expenses and then surprised her even more by asking her favorite player, Chase Utley, to bring out some Phillies swag. Utley personally invited her to be his guest at as many games as she wanted for the following year.
This past August, DeGeneres invited Kramer back to her show, where she announced that she was cancer free, and shared her experience attending the Phillies opening game and throwing the first pitch. “I’ve done everything in one day that I’ve wanted to do in a lifetime,” she said in a video shown by DeGeneres highlighting Kramer’s day with the Phillies.
Kramer told DeGeneres about helping the fundraising campaign, “Striking Out Cancer,” raise $8,500 for pediatric cancer, which was donated to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). DeGeneres arranged a $10,000 donation to CHOP from Shutterfly.
This past fall was Kramer’s first semester back at school since she left to undergo intensive cancer treatment. “My teachers were all amazing, and really helped me conquer some fears I had. They got me out of some of my comfort zones and helped me realize I can achieve things I never thought I could or would,” she said.
While taking Public Relations with Ai Zhang, associate professor of Communications, she quickly developed friendships and dived into her major. “Usually when people hear my story, they sometimes get shy to talk to me, because of what I have been through. But [my classmates] were all really cool and easy to talk to and joke with. We were all very welcoming with one another,” she said.
Zhang immediately noticed Kramer’s distinctiveness. “Julie’s story was truly inspiring. I was impressed by her optimistic outlook on life, as well as her commitment to school and helping others. Julie has a purpose for her life and is making an utmost effort to fulfill that purpose,” she said.
In her free time, Kramer plays softball, works out, goes on outdoor adventures and does things that make her happy. Her advice to fellow students is to try their best, but not to stress. “I can assure you the stress isn’t worth it. Try to give yourself some ‘me-time’ throughout the semester. Stay at ease. We sometimes put too much pressure on ourselves and forget to enjoy what really matters – which is being happy,” she said.
Having her life threatened has taught her never to take anything for granted. “Do whatever makes you happy. That’s my motto. Life really is too short. You never know what is going to happen,” she said.
Kramer never gave up. She encourages others to do the same. “I mean, you hear that all the time, but maybe it’s for a reason. No matter how bad things are, they will get better. They always do. And if you get through it, it only makes you stronger,” she said.
Cancer was not something that Kramer and her family knew much about prior to her diagnosis. “Since then, it’s something I try to help others out with every day. Whether it’s responding to emails from my support group or just texting others who are currently battling, I do what I can,” said Kramer.
Although her battle is over, she’s still fighting to help others. “I was in that exact position not long ago, and I know how much it meant to me [when others supported me], so it feels great to help them cope, as well,” she added.
Last semester, Kramer met David Caldarella, of David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation, who was visiting her Public Relations class to recruit students to help promote his initiatives. Caldarella is a survivor of stage IV head and neck cancer.
Along with two other friends in the class, Kramer developed a plan to help spread awareness and ideas to get more people involved with the foundation, even if they have limited time. They conducted a research analysis and interviews to determine what means the most to cancer patients and what attracts people to get involved.
“David endured a great amount, and I was instantly inspired and was really able to relate to him. It feels great to help such an awesome organization, and especially help someone like David. He is an incredible person, and I am inspired by him,” said Kramer.
Last semester was just the beginning of her work with Caldarella. She is continuing with her project this semester.
Kramer recently began an internship with the Philadelphia-based HEADstrong Foundation, which gives cancer patients a place to stay if they live too far from Philadelphia’s cancer treatment centers. “It’s really great to be a part of it and although I just started, I am already so excited about it. It’s hard to see these patients come in with this horrible disease, but putting a smile on their faces is just priceless. It really is,” she explained.
Her goal is to work for the Phillies in the communications department. “That would be a dream. That’s where my passion is, so I know I would love it,” she said.
Staying involved with the cancer organizations she belongs to and joining others is another goal for Kramer. Helping others is what guides her, she says. She’ll never forget what it felt like to receive help when she needed it the most. “That’s something that will be with me forever.”