Lung Cancer Survivor Copes With Unexpected Diagnosis

photo of Julie Genovesi in a green boa

When her doctor told Julie Genovesi she had lung cancer, she was in complete denial. She argued with him, and told him to re-check the scans. She was certain he’d mixed up her results with someone else’s. After all, Genovesi was healthy. She was only 51, she didn’t smoke, and she was a runner who was fit and worked out every day. She had no symptoms.

But the doctor had not mixed up the scans. Genovesi had a type of non-small cell lung cancer called adenocarcinoma. It was already Stage IV and had spread to her hip, spine, and brain.

“I was floored by the diagnosis. It was devastating; it was inconceivable because I was just so healthy,” said Genovesi. “But then it all started coming down around me. I’m single and living alone and I was so scared, I’d wake up in the middle of the night terrified.”

But Genovesi is also a mother. And the thought of her son, 21 years old, motivated her to take control of her emotions and her treatment. “That’s what gets you through,” said Genovesi. “I have to do everything I possibly can no matter what the doctor tells me. I really have no choice.”

It all started with the hot water heater

In March, 2016, Genovesi woke up to a hot water heater that was smoking and fuming. She called her landlord to fix it and then went to work. But a friend insisted Genovesi go to the emergency room to be checked out in case she had been exposed to carbon monoxide. She didn’t have carbon monoxide poisoning, but the exam included a chest x-raythat revealed the tumor. A biopsy confirmed it was cancer.

Tests showed that Genovesi would benefit from the immunotherapy drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab), so she entered a clinical trial and started taking the drug. She says it made her feel like she had the flu “times a hundred.” Unfortunately, the drug didn’t help her. After 3 months, scans showed the cancer had spread to new places including her sternum and adrenal gland.

Genovesi’s current treatment includes chemotherapy as well as radiation to her hip and sternum. She says the radiation causes her heartburn “times a million” and pain. “Whenever you have a day that’s pain free, it’s a really, really good day,” she says.

Learning to go with the flow

"When you're staring at something like this, you have to make every moment count. That's the only way to get through it: day-by-day."

Julie Genovesi

“I don’t know what my prognosis is at this point. Nobody really knows anything, really. They don’t know where it’s going to spread,” said Genovesi. “I’ve learned how to cope with that a little better. You have to go with the flow because no one can give you an answer to anything.”

Treatment and side effects have caused Genovesi to take disability from work. She spends her days going to medical appointments, reading, keeping in touch with her son, and visiting with family and friends. She calls their support “amazing.” They help her drive to appointments, send her gifts, and listen to her concerns. She and a group of girlfriends often get together for lunch, and once dressed up in boas just for fun. “Anytime I need somebody, I can call,” she said. “I never feel alone.”

She has also woven together a variety of strategies to cope with the uncertainty of her diagnosis and the side effects from treatment. They include:

  • Staying informed through reputable cancer websites including the American Cancer Society website. “I love my computer and I love to research. It’ makes me feel better to know there is information out there,” said Genovesi.
  • Creating her own website, Cancer Crazed and Confused, where she shares her personal story. “I thought it might help someone else who is overwhelmed by this and wants to find out how someone else’s treatment is going,” she said.
  • Relying on her faith. “I have a very strong faith in God and that calms me and takes away the fear.”
  • Practicing alternative therapies, including acupuncture, massage, medical marijuana, and meditation. “It helps me fall asleep. Once you lay down at night, that’s when you think all these thoughts.”
  • Accepting the services of a local cancer resource center. Ann’s Place offers counseling, support groups, and activities such as yoga, knitting, and art classes free of charge to cancer patients and their caregivers in Connecticut and lower Hudson Valley, New York. “Anybody who has an opportunity, I would encourage them to go,” said Genovesi.

“When you’re staring at something like this, you have to make every moment count,” said Genovesi. “That’s the only way to get through it: day-by-day.”

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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