I’m writing to you to let you know that you can still live your life past a cancer diagnosis.
I’m Ashley Randolph-Murosky, and I was diagnosed with stage 2 non-small cell lung cancer at age 19. At the time, I was your average teen in college living a completely normal lifestyle.
One day I went to a doctor on campus thinking I pulled a muscle in my upper back. The doctor did an X-ray to make sure that I hadn’t collapsed my lung. When the X-ray came back, the doctor told me my lung wasn’t collapsed, but that he saw a dark spot on it. He didn’t know what it was, but sent me to see a lung specialist.
Things began to happen so fast. The lung specialist ordered tests that showed the tumor was cancerous.
It’s very rare that you see someone as young as myself with lung cancer. I want the stigma that lung cancer is an older person’s disease to be gone.
Soon after my diagnosis, I had a right lower lobectomy. Surgeons took out about 20 percent of my right lung and the tumor. I underwent four rounds of intravenous (IV) chemotherapy and nine weeks of radiation therapy for five days a week.
I also received genetic testing for the tumor. It came back as the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) mutation, a rare type of lung cancer. There are many different kinds of lung cancer mutations, and they all get treated differently.
I’ve been lucky in that my doctors have been extremely supportive of me and always have my best interests in mind. They’ve become like family to me. But don’t ever hesitate to get more than one opinion.
For three years after my treatment, I had no evidence of disease. But in June 2016, I had my yearly scan, and it showed that I had relapsed. I had little tumors throughout my lungs and the pleural cavities, a tumor on my vertebrae, and a brain tumor. I had surgery to remove the tumor in my brain and targeted radiation therapy on my spine.
Now, instead of IV chemotherapy, I’ve started targeted therapy. It’s not like traditional chemotherapy. Instead of treating every cell, it targets the specific gene.
What’s really important is making sure you have a good caregiver by your side to support you, but also someone who knows everything about your diagnosis, treatments, and medical information. My husband has been my biggest support system. When I was first diagnosed, we had only been dating for a year. He was there 100 percent of the way. The relapse hit us really hard, but he’s been my rock.
I’m 24 now. In November 2017, I’ll reach my fifth year since I was first diagnosed. In that time, I’ve gotten involved with the American Lung Association’s LUNG FORCE and went to Advocacy Day in Washington, DC, to speak with my senators and congressman about why healthcare is so important. I’ve talked at town halls, the House Cancer Caucus in DC, and at LUNG FORCE’s walks.
I also got married. I recently celebrated my first wedding anniversary. I’ve had five birthdays. And we’re trying to have a baby through surrogacy.
The hard part about this disease is that I’ll never be cancer-free. All that can be done right now is that my treatment can put the gene “to sleep.”
But I’m proof that you can get past a cancer diagnosis.
Ashley Randolph-Murosky was a sophomore at Penn State University when she was diagnosed with stage 2 non-small cell lung cancer. Now, she’s an American Lung Association LUNG FORCE Hero advocating for early detection and screening, and is determined to get rid of the stigma that lung cancer is an older person’s disease.