Written by Amanda Sabino
As the wheels on her road bike dig into a local trail, Julie Hubbell focuses on clocking another 10 miles for CowaLUNGa’s Virtual Charity Bike Tour. Through ups and downs over the last few years, Julie knows one thing always makes her feel better – hopping on her bike and riding. But she also rides to celebrate completing a year of lung cancer immunotherapy treatments this August.
Julie Hubbell and her husband, Steve.
“What do I do now?” she wonders of her post-treatment future.
Julie’s fight against lung cancer has been uniquely challenging for both her and the medical staff at St. Mary’s in Hobart, Indiana. For the past two years, Julie, an outspoken advocate for her medical care, has worked with the doctors and nurses at St. Mary’s to help save her life.
She was initially diagnosed with Stage 2 lung cancer. When a surgeon went to remove her tumor, they found it wrapped around her pulmonary artery. Instead of hearing good news when she woke from surgery, doctors told her they could not remove it.
Now living with Stage 3 lung cancer, she would have to begin chemotherapy and radiation treatment immediately. With her back on a hospital bed, and still connected to a chest tube, she was struck with fear at this setback.
“Why me?” she recalls thinking.
Facing the challenges of lung disease was nothing new for Julie, however. Several years earlier, she was diagnosed with COPD – but she wouldn’t let it stop her. She found community and support at Respiratory Health Association’s Living Better Together Conference for COPD, which empowered her to self-manage her care. Motivated by her improved well-being, she signed up to climb 52 floors to the top of Chicago’s skyline at Hustle Chicago Stair Climb® the next year. As she neared the top of the building, Julie burst into tears reflecting on how far she had come.
“It was surreal realizing I would finish,” she remembers.
Now facing this latest setback from lung cancer, Julie was prepared to fight again. The aggressiveness of her new treatment plan matched the goal – to decrease the size of a tumor now as big as her fist. By her third round of chemo, Julie’s white blood count was so low she had to get a blood transfusion. At the end of a few days in the ICU, she told doctors she did not want to complete the treatment.
Her doctors told her they would do everything to help her complete the treatment successfully. Her kids, who were by her side, urged her to continue. She had already come so far. Her daughter pleaded with her.
“Mom, do the treatment,” her son said quietly.
“You’re Gabe’s person,” her daughter said of Julie’s grandson. “You have to be here for Gabe.”
Julie and her daughter.
The encouragement worked. Today, Julie is glad her doctors and family convinced her to continue chemotherapy. It led her to begin immunotherapy, which came along with its own challenges and side effects. But two years of treatment turned the tide against her cancer. Her tumor is down to the size of a walnut.
Side effects from the treatments have slowed her down, but she continues to regain strength and expects to feel even better after her last one in August.
“This,” she says, referencing her bike and her rides, “is kind of my getting back to living.”
As Julie gets ready for another bike ride and her last immunotherapy treatment, she reflects on her own will and the family that pushed her forward. Her determination and love for her family have never changed, but so much else has. Her next challenge is living in this new reality.
“The old me is gone,” she says. “I’m trying to figure out who the new me is. And cycling will be a big part of that.”
To donate to Julie’s ride and support those living with COPD, as well as research into lung cancer, click here.