In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

February 27, 2018

Lung Cancer Treatment Helps Former Olympian Keep Skating Through Life

By In the Loop

When Rachael Drazan-Malmberg woke up with pain in her ribs, she thought it was simply some post-workout stiffness. She never dreamed that it could be, and would be, lung cancer.

Rachael Drazan-Malmberg was just 31 when she was diagnosed with lung cancer, an experience that turned the former college hockey standout and member of Team USA's 2010 Olympic team into an advocate for others.

Last week, the world watched as the U.S. women's hockey team took down Canada in dramatic fashion to win its first Olympic gold medal in 20 years. For one former Team USA member, the victory was particularly sweet … if for no other reason than she was alive to see it.

Two years ago, Rachael Drazan-Malmberg, a former University of Minnesota hockey standout and member of Team USA's 2010 Olympic team, woke up with pain in her ribs, Fox 9 News reports. Young and physically fit, Rachael initially chalked up the pain to post-workout stiffness. But when it wouldn't go away, she was sent for an MRI. Test results revealed Rachael had lung cancer, and it had already spread to her brain.

It was a diagnosis the 31-year-old tells Fox 9 she still has trouble processing. "I think I still have moments today where I'm like, 'Is it real?'" she says. "'Am I going to wake up from this bad dream?' That's what I feel like a lot of times."

Rachael soon came to Mayo Clinic for treatment. Her care team put Rachael on medication intended to shrink the tumor in her lung. Fox 9 reports that Rachael also "withstood hours upon hours of radiation, a grueling battery of procedures, tests," and hospital visits that "left her drained physically, emotionally and spiritually."

But it also left her with success. At the end of Rachael's initial treatment cycle, her tumor had "shrunk enough to be removed safely" by Shanda Blackmon, M.D., a thoracic surgeon at Mayo Clinic. This was "a huge development for the former hockey star," Fox 9 reports. Another big development would follow. Additional treatment would "eliminate her brain tumor entirely — leaving her cancer free."

Today, Rachael devotes her time and considerable energy to helping ensure that other cancer patients experience similar outcomes. "God gave me this journey for a reason," she tells Fox 9. "I may not know what it is now, but I feel like I'm being guided to be an advocate for others."

And advocate she has. Fox 9 reports that "since she's been cleared," Rachael has "joined six different medical studies and joined the Minnesota board of the American Lung Association, with plans to advocate for more research funding in Washington, D.C."

Her end game? To help put the pain and suffering of cancer squarely where it belongs: in the penalty box. "I want nobody else to go through what I've gone through," she tells Fox 9. "If that means sacrificing my time and my body, and my family's willing to support me through that, then I'm going to do it."

You can read more of Rachael's story here. Then score with us by sharing your comments below. You can use the handy social media tools to share this story with others.



Tags: Dr. Shanda Blackmon, Lung Cancer, Patient Stories

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