Reality Show Matriarch Julie Chrisley Shares What She Learned from Surviving Breast Cancer
by Laura Shipp
It’s no secret that the Chrisleys – stars of the USA Network reality series Chrisley Knows Best – live an opulent lifestyle. The show, which bills itself as a real-life family comedy, follows the ostensibly fairy-tale lives of multi-millionaire real estate developer Todd Chrisley, his wife, Julie, and their five children. Always dressed to the nines in designer labels, and living in a 30,000 square foot Atlanta mansion, the Chrisley family may seem on the surface like typical vainglorious reality stars.
However, once you look past the Gucci suits and Louis Vuitton handbags, you’ll see that what the Chrisleys value most is family. This was never more evident than during Julie’s battle with breast cancer in 2012 – well before TV cameras began documenting the family’s side-splitting antics.
Julie recently opened up to Coping® about how facing breast cancer quickly taught her who’s really in control (Hint: It’s not Todd.) and reaffirmed a lesson she’s known all along – that the most important things in life are those that money can’t buy.
Julie was diagnosed with breast cancer in March of 2012 after a not-exactly-routine mammogram. She was only 39 years old (45 is the current, though controversial, recommended screening age), and she had no family history and no symptoms. What she did have, however, was a husband with strong opinions who doesn’t easily back down. After all, the Chrisley referenced in the show’s title is Todd.
Whether you want to call it intuition, divine intervention, or just a hunch, what matters is Todd was convinced Julie needed a mammogram, and one morning he insisted that she get screened. So she called her doctor that day.
“They told me my insurance probably wouldn’t pay for the screening,” she says, “but I went ahead and got it because I knew Todd would not give up.”
“I had a husband, five children, and a business to take care of. I had no time to be sick.”
It turns out that Chrisley did know best. The mammogram revealed a malignant lump. And life as they knew it came to a halt for Julie and the rest of the family.
“My life was crazy and busy during that time. I had a husband, five children, and a business to take care of. I had no time to be sick,” Julie says. “Boy, did I learn quickly that God was in control and not me!”
Though cancer upended her life, Julie says she still felt blessed. Her cancer was early stage, it was removed completely with a double mastectomy, and Julie required no further treatment. However, like many breast cancer survivors, Julie had a difficult time accepting the loss of her breasts.
“After breast cancer, your body is forever changed,” she says. “Our society puts so much emphasis on breasts, and to lose them is a traumatic experience. I had to keep telling myself how blessed I was because my cancer had not spread and I was able to have reconstruction right away.”
Todd also played a large part in helping Julie regain her self-esteem. “He was consistent from the very beginning,” she says. “I will never forget him saying to me that as long as I survived, nothing else mattered. He never once made me feel insecure. We became closer than ever, and I realized how fortunate I am to have him in my life.”
In fact, according to Julie, Todd was “the best nurse a girl could ask for.”
“When I came home from the hospital, he had the room covered with flowers,” she says. “He was there for me every minute of the day. He took care of all of my medicines and changed every bandage, which was amazing considering he passes out at the sight of blood! He never one time flinched.”
Julie is now three years cancer-free. (“Praise God!” she says.) Through everything, Julie says one lesson has stuck with her: “Cancer has reminded me that the things that matter most in life can’t be bought.”
And with that, it might be safe to say that maybe it’s Julie who knows best.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2015.