(KMSP) - Rachael Drazan-Malmberg's stride chewed up ice from Minnesota to China, her wicked slapshot powering the University of Minnesota to a Frozen Four appearance and a spot on world champion Team USA--but two years ago, she came face to face with an opponent the likes of which she'd never seen before.
One morning in the spring of 2016 she woke up with some pain in her ribs--stiffness from a workout, or so she thought. She saw a doctor when it persisted, but they couldn't find anything wrong.
“She was pretty optimistic that it wasn’t going to be anything,” her father, Mike Drazan said.
Then came a diagnosis the fitness crazed, eat-all-the-right-foods 31-year-old mother never expected: lung cancer. And it had already spread to her brain.
"I think I still have moments today where I’m like, 'Is it real?'" said Drazan-Malmberg. "'Am I going to wake up from this bad dream?' That’s what I feel like a lot of times.”
It was unusual, though doctors told her the cancer was caused by a genetic mutation and not inherited.
After her diagnosis, Drazan-Malmberg and her husband had their home of six years tested for radon. The levels came back high. They immediately has a radon mitigation system installed.
Three neighbors followed suit when their houses also tested high.
Most people who develop lung cancer are 50 or older, many of whom smoke cigarettes--though as Drazan-Malmberg says, she isn't most people.
With precious time running out, Drazan-Malmberg asked her doctors to pull the goalie, so to speak, attacking the cancer with every available option.
“Since day one I’ve been told you’re out of the box, you’re not normal," she said. "Well that’s great cause that’s how I’ve been my whole life.”
She was put on a drug to help shrink the tumor in her lung and withstood hours upon hours of radiation, a grueling battery of procedures, tests, hospital visits and staggering medical bills that left her drained physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Then, a light at the end of the tunnel appeared.
The tumor in her lung shrunk enough to be removed safely, a huge development for the former hockey star.
Then, with the help of a $20,000 a month medication, she was able to eliminate her brain tumor entirely--leaving her cancer free, for now at least.
Since getting the all clear in August, she attacks every day with all the focus she used to make it through each punishing round of treatment, trying to be the best mother and the best person she can possibly be.
“God gave me this journey for a reason," she said. "I may not know what it is now, but I feel like I’m being guided to be an advocate for others.”
Since she's been cleared, she 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. this March.
“I want nobody else to go through what I’ve gone through," she said. "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.”
And her personal reward for making it so far? Marathon training for a race she's scheduled this spring.
"I feel healthy, like nothing's ever happened," she said. "When am I going to wake up? It doesn't feel real."