Rachael Drazan-Malmberg doesn’t shy away from hard work and challenges. Rachael is a former member of the world champion USA Hockey team, a former Minnesota Golden Gopher hockey player, and a mother of a 5-year-old. Now, the 32-year-old is facing her biggest challenge yet.
In March 2016, Rachael noticed pain in her back rib area. When the pain didn’t go away, she went to the doctor and received a startling diagnosis: stage 4 lung cancer that had spread to her brain and lymph nodes in her chest.
“I felt healthy, had no risk factors for lung cancer, and suddenly I was in the fight for my life,” said Rachael.
Rachael was prescribed a medication designed to target her specific cancer type. As a result of the medication, Rachael developed severe rashes and blistering, and experienced hair changes and bloating.
Even though doctors said the medication was working well to treat the cancer, the side effects were making it impossible for Rachael to maintain a good quality of life. Worried that lowering her dose would reduce the effectiveness of her treatment, doctors instead prescribed even more medications to treat the side effects.
“I felt healthy, had no risk factors for lung cancer, and suddenly I was in the fight for my life.”
Soon after beginning treatment, Rachael learned that she qualified for lung surgery to remove cancerous lobes and lymph nodes. Rachael, who was already frustrated by the side effects she was experiencing and the mounting number of medications she was taking, knew that having surgery meant she would need to be prescribed even more medications — this time for pain.
“I was nervous because pain medications haven’t worked for me in the past. I was worried about how I would recover from the surgery.”
Despite her concern, Rachael moved forward with the surgery.
The surgery was a success. Rachael was prescribed oxycodone for pain, and doctors told her that she would be able to leave the hospital after one to two days of recovery. But by day two in the hospital, Rachael was still in pain.
“I was in severe pain. I couldn’t relax or sleep, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. After two days of struggling through this pain, doctors changed my medication from oxycodone to hydrocodone. By the next day, my pain was so much better that I was able to go home.”
Rachael, who was perplexed by her response (or, in this case, lack of response) to certain medications, remembered that she had recently heard about the OneOme RightMed® test. The RightMed test is a pharmacogenomic test (sometimes called a medication response test) that predicts how a person may respond to medications, based on their DNA.
Rachael wondered if the test could provide clues about why she was struggling so much with medications and if it could be a resource for her doctors who may need to prescribe more medications for her in the future. Rachael asked her doctor about the RightMed test, and he ordered it for her.
“After two days of struggling through this pain, doctors changed my medication. By the next day, my pain was so much better that I was able to go home.”
Rachael’s DNA sample was collected with a cheek swab and sent to OneOme’s laboratory for testing. Within just a few days, Rachael’s doctor was notified that her results were ready.
“When I got my RightMed results, it showed that oxycodone, the medication I had been prescribed that didn’t work, was predicted to have little effect for me at a normal dose. After my test results validated this for me, I became serious about sharing them with my other doctors. I’m relieved that I finally have a resource to show doctors whenever I need new medications.”
Shortly after receiving her RightMed test results, Rachael developed a severe urinary tract infection (UTI). She went to urgent care for treatment, and doctors prescribed her a standard antibiotic. The medication didn’t work.
“I brought my results back to the doctors and asked that they consider them when choosing a new medication for me. They reviewed them and switched me to a medication that was predicted to work for me at a normal dose. Within days, I was completely better.”
Since receiving her RightMed results, Rachael has shared them with the physician assistant who manages her medication regimen, her primary care doctor, and her radiation oncologist. All of these providers plan to use her results when prescribing medications for Rachael in the future.
“I have a binder with all of my medical history that I bring with me to each appointment. My RightMed results are now a part of that, and it’s a relief to be able to point to something and say, ‘before you prescribe a new medication, please take a look at this.’”
“I’m relieved that I finally have a resource to show doctors whenever I need new medications.”
Rachael’s treatment and fight against cancer continues, but her resilience and passion for helping others is keeping her focused on the challenge at hand. Rachael was recently asked by the American Lung Association to represent the state of Minnesota in advocacy work focused on increasing funding for lung cancer research. During a recent visit to Washington D.C., Rachael spoke to legislators and came away from it with something she has grown accustomed to — a big win.
“We asked for a certain amount of funding for lung cancer research, and to our surprise, they didn’t just agree to the number we asked for — they agreed to exceed it.”
For Rachael, these victories are what help to keep her focused on her larger goal — living her life with purpose and advocating for cancer treatment that recognizes that each patient is unique.
Fox9, a TV station covering the Twin Cities, visited OneOme's office in Minneapolis to learn how the RightMed test helped Rachael during her cancer treatment.