By Barb Arland-Fye
BLUE GRASS — Cancerous tumors have shut her left eye and forced her to give up her cherished career as a Davenport police officer. But Julie Bruns has an unshakable Catholic faith, family and friends that give her hope and gratitude for the blessings in her life.
The 43-year-old wife and mother of four — of her own and two adult step-children — tackles cancer with the same tenacity she pursued her dream to become a police officer. She believes God expects nothing less from her.
“I rely on my faith. I’m not afraid to die; I know God has put me here for a reason. My biggest fear is not completing my job as a mother,” said Bruns, a member of St. Andrew Parish in Blue Grass.
She has questioned God about the reason for this ordeal. But she doesn’t take time to dwell on it. “I keep praying that God will continue to watch over me and guide me down the right path. He always seems to steer me the right way,” she said, a couple of weeks after undergoing two surgeries – the first, which failed to open her left eye lid, and the second to correct problems stemming from the eye-opening procedure.
Her doctor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., cautioned that the first surgery had a high risk of failure. She was willing to take the risk. Had the surgery been successful, she said she could have continued working as a police officer.
She’s full of praise for the support of her fellow employees in the Davenport PD. Some donated vacation time when she needed to be off because of the cancer, diagnosed in 2006. At that time, doctors discovered a cancerous tumor resting on her cranial nerve. Her husband, Scott, was in Iraq, working as firefighter for a civilian contractor and had just been home on leave prior to learning of his wife’s medical situation. He was able to make it back home for her surgery at Mayo Clinic during which surgeons opened her skull to examine the tumor.
She received 12 weeks of the highest dose of radiation she could withstand. By the summer of 2007 she was back to work as a patrol officer. Follow-up examinations indicated the tumor was dormant. Then, nine months ago, “my eye started to shut.” Another tumor was growing. Radiation was not an option.
“A body can only withstand so much radiation and she’s reached her limit,” said Scott, who has steadfastly supported his wife of six years throughout her illness. So Julie went through chemotherapy treatments, which ended in February. She returned to light duty at the police department afterward.
“I don’t know that I’d be able to handle what she’s been going through with as much grace as she has,” said Dan Shaw, a longtime friend and fellow parishioner at St. Andrew’s. “She is an amazing person and has a lot of faith.”
Their sons, Travis and Jonathan, will enter seventh grade together at Walcott Intermediate School. Shaw, Julie and Scott Bruns also participated in the diocesan program “Why Catholic?” that St. Andrew offered. Shaw said that one day Julie Bruns shared during “Why Catholic?” that she wasn’t afraid of dying; she was more afraid of leaving her kids behind. “What an amazing amount of faith she has already received from God,” Shaw said. “If she can’t be a police officer, she still is having an effect on her community through her own grace, or the grace she’s been given through God.”
“She’d show up for “Why Catholic?” meetings tired and still contribute. That speaks so much about how devoted she is to the Catholic Church,” says longtime friend Maureen Dolan, whose husband, Barry, was a leader of “Why Catholic?” at St. Andrew’s. When Bruns was training for a women’s triathlon in 2007, following radiation treatment, Maureen Dolan ran and bicycled with her. “She was struggling with cancer and she was keeping me motivated,” Dolan said.
Last year, Bruns co-taught her daughter Taylor’s confirmation class at St. Andrew Parish with Janet Friederichs, the parish’s religious education director. Once confirmation was over, Bruns began working with her daughter on music ministry, Friederichs said. And when Friederichs asked for volunteer catechists for the coming school year, Bruns volunteered. “One of my teachers is going to be moving, so Julie has stepped up to help fill in,” Friederichs said. “She is a good role model for the kids.”
Cathy Bosco, principal of the Kimberly Center in Davenport, agrees. Bruns worked one day a week at the alternative school as a police liaison. “She was awesome. She built relationships with kids. She built relationships with the staff as well.” If a conflict arose, “more often than not she was able to deal with a student and de-escalate a situation.”
Her commitment to kids is demonstrated in part by an award she received in 2006 as one of four Davenport DARE police officers honored by the Evening Optimist Club for outstanding work with youth.
Bruns is proud of her work in law enforcement, a career which began 14 years ago in Tama County. Now she’s concentrating on moving on to whatever God’s next plan is for her. She’s grateful to Scott for supporting her on this journey. “He is definitely my soul mate.”