Alexandra Marshall’s cancer journey began with a Halloween scare, but not from the stereotypical ghost or goblin. On Halloween of her freshman year of college, she had developed a 102 degree fever, felt extremely tired, was jaundice and could not get out of bed. These symptoms landed her in the emergency room at Novant Hospital here in Charlotte. Several doctors reviewed her case including two oncologists, who were concerned with a mass in her chest that was located above her heart. After a ten day hospital stay and three biopsies, doctors determined the mass to be benign and ruled that Alex had a severe case of mono.
After recovering from her mono diagnosis, Alex resumed normal life and returned to her swimming schedule as a student athlete. Then summer 2015 came and she noticed she had developed some sinus problems, what she chalked up to as “summer colds”. Heading into the new school year she developed a severe cough along with fatigue, pressure in her chest and breathing difficulties. Then in the last couple of weeks of September 2015 thats when things began to take a turn for the worse. Alex scheduled an appointment with the university doctor, who referred her to a pulmonologist for an x-ray. Alex received a phone call at 6 a.m. the following day that the x-ray revealed abnormal spots around her lungs and there was a mass in her chest. A CT scan confirmed the x-ray results and a doctor scheduled Alex to have a biopsy of the mass in her chest.
A week passed and Alex had heard nothing from the doctors or her family who accompanied her for the tests, but little did she know at the time that her family was on the way to Charlotte from their home in the Winston Salem area to tell her the results in person.
“I was sitting on my couch in the common room of my dorm when my best friend walks through the door with my family behind them. At first I was happy and then it hit me… my whole body went numb followed by a monsoon of tears,” said Alexandra Marshall, first-time 24 Foundation rider and cancer survivor. “My mouth went completely dry and the only words I could get out of my mouth was “No” over and over.”
Alex explains this moment like an episode of the peanuts, where all she could hear was the muffled, inaudible noises of the teacher.
“Once I finally pulled myself together, I heard I had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease, otherwise known as Hodgkin’s Lymphoma,” Alex said. “I was 20 and I had cancer. Not exactly what I wanted to hear. Thankfully we caught it early and I was Stage 2. As I like to describe it, my heart had a top hat of cancer cells and then a few lymph nodes along my collar bone.”
Alex moved back home to Winston-Salem to begin treatment at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital Cancer Center. She underwent 12 sessions of ABVD chemotherapy.
“Over the course of treatment, I had chemo parties where I dressed up with my friends and family,” Alex said. For Christmas I wore a matching onesie with one of my friends, for New year’s I wore the crazy hats and necklaces and had sparking cider and for my final chemo I wore a Wonder onesie! I also called my four bags of chemo my four cocktails. I mean its five o’clock somewhere right?”
Alex did not let her cancer diagnosis cripple her. She was amazed at the support she received from her family, friends and Queens University, as well as the Charlotte and Winston Salem communities.
“Let me tell you a had my moments and sometimes they were BIG moments,” Alex said. “I was angry at first, but I then knew that God had a plan for me and he would not have given me this battle unless I could fight it!”
Alex has returned to continue her schooling and college athletic career as a university swimmer, all while trying to do her best at “adulting” as she calls it.
“I have started this new chapter of my life and I am beyond excited about it.” Alex said. “I feel like a happier and healthier me!”
As part of Alex’s next chapter, she decided to ride in the 15th annual 24 Foundation after hearing about the event from her friend Lauren Carter, who previously received a 24 Foundation endowed scholarship through Queens University. Alex proudly rode the survivor lap with her teammate Lauren. A part of the event that she marks as her favorite and refers to as a “powerful moment she cannot put into words.”
“24 Foundation has brought me together with an amazing family and community that understands what I have gone through,” Alex said. “All of the amazing programs the organization supports will help me transition back into “normal” life again. I am looking forward to continue being a part of this incredible family.”