Emily Bissell Lung Leadership Award Recipient
Sponsored by Penn State Hershey Medical Center
Ashley Randolph-Murosky's back pain turned out to be a devastating disease.
Ashley Randolph-Murosky is a LUNG Force Hero for the American Lung Association’s LUNG FORCE initiative.
There had to be some kind of mistake, I thought, when a doctor told me about the golf-ball sized tumor on my lung. I was in complete disbelief when I found out it was cancerous. And years later, when the cancer spread to my brain and to my spine, it was still hard to fathom that a 19-year-old, healthy, active, non-smoking college student could get stage II non-small cell lung cancer in the first place. I’ve since learned that lung cancer can happen to anyone.
Before my diagnosis, I was sophomore at Pennsylvania State University studying kinesiology. I was in a new relationship with an amazing guy, playing intramural basketball, and raising money to fight childhood cancer when I had time away from my hectic class schedule. Then one day, I sneezed, and for some reason, the sneeze was so forceful that I pulled a muscle in my back. It seemed so random, and I tried to brush it off, but the pain didn’t go away. I went to the campus doctor to get a muscle relaxer for my back.
The doctors decided to do an X-ray of my lungs, just to be safe, to make sure there were no cracks from when I sneezed. Instead, they found a large tumor on the upper right lobe of my lung.
“What? Why? How?” I asked. I had never smoked a day in my life, and I wasn’t even having any symptoms. In fact, before the pulled muscle, I felt great. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening, and there was so much more I had to find out.
Within a few days, I had a bronchoscopy and a PET scan, which showed that my tumor was cancerous. I was referred to Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute, and I met the doctors there that would become like family for what I didn’t know would be several years.
It was there that I learned that I had stage II non-small cell lung cancer. Translation: There were malignant cancer cells in my lung tissue. The doctors did tumor biopsies and sent them away to test for special genetic markers and abnormalities with my cancer. They found that my cancer was caused by a rare condition called the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene mutation. If that first doctor at the student health center didn’t do that X-ray and see the tumor, it could have spread to my other organs before I found out about it. That could have been fatal.
Less than a month after I found out about the tumor, I was on the operating table. To get rid of my aggressive tumor, surgeons had to remove it, and they took a part of my lung with it. I had an upper right lobectomy, which was a surgery that removed the upper right portion of my lung.
When I woke up after surgery, the tumor was gone. The surgery was a success, but it left me with shortness of breath and decreased lung capacity, the effects of which I’m still feeling five years later. I still had cancer cells in my lungs that needed to be treated with four rounds of intravenous chemotherapy, plus radiation for nine weeks, five days a week. A part of my lung was gone, but my fight with this disease was only beginning.