Legendary drag racer Shirley Muldowney has made thousands of rides down a drag strip in her racing career, but nothing comes close to the ride she has undergone in the last week.
Muldowney, who became the first woman to win a national event race as well as becoming the NHRA’s first female champion (3-time Top Fuel champ), is expected to be released Tuesday from a Charlotte area hospital.
But that’s only the back story.
Muldowney was admitted into the hospital a week ago today, prepared to have her right lung removed last Wednesday, having been diagnosed with Stage 2 lung cancer. Only about 30 percent of Stage 2 survivors live another five years after surgery.
That’s when nothing short of a miracle happened.
When the five-hour surgery began last Wednesday, doctors quickly discovered that while there indeed was a tumor in Muldowney’s right lung, the entire lung itself ultimately did not require removal – just a small portion of it, including the tumor.
Then, when doctors examined the tumor, they found that while it was severely infected, it did not appear to be cancerous. A biopsy of the tumor after it was removed confirmed its benign state.
“The decision to remove only part of her lung happened during the surgery when they saw that the lower lobe was in good shape,” Muldowney’s agent, Rob Geiger, told MotorSportsTalk.
“Apparently, because the tumor was so infected, it presented itself as cancerous by exhibiting all the signs of cancer, i.e. it ‘glowed’ during the scan they do.
“They tried twice to get a piece of it to test tissue, but because the tumor was attached to her windpipe, they had to be extra careful and eventually elected to just leave it alone. Either way (if it was or wasn’t cancerous), it had to come out.”
Now, Muldowney is heading home to recover, but her outlook and prognosis is nothing short of outstanding.
“It’s a miracle, this whole thing the way it’s turned out,” Muldowney said, according to Geiger. “To go from hearing a cancer diagnosis and having an entire lung removed to the actual operation and the doctor sees it’s not as bad as they thought.
“I still have part of my right lung and the tumor was just severely infected, not cancerous. I’m so glad it’s over and the pain is over. The infection was so bad I would have died pretty soon if we didn’t do this. I’m lucky, very lucky.”
Geiger relayed a message Muldowney had for her fans:
“The fans and all of the friends I’ve made over the years have really been something,” Muldowney said. “I have received so many flowers my room is overflowing.
“I asked the nurses to distribute them around to other patients so they can enjoy them as well. Plus, I told them to put some on the nurse’s station for them to see.
“I’ve gotten so many cards and messages on the Internet and email, I’m going to have to live another 20 years to answer them all!
“The staff here … these people here are angels. The absolute best in the business. They are so wonderful and attentive. It’s been as good as it can be.
“I can’t wait to get home and see the dogs. They miss their mama, I’m sure.”
Muldowney, who had to cancel two appearances at upcoming NHRA events due to last week’s surgery, is hoping for a quick recovery. It’s not clear when she may return to public appearances, but Muldowney is ready to start working in that direction.
“I need to stay active,” she said. “I need to keep up and walking around. The doctors want me walking up to two miles a day by the time I hit eight weeks, so I need to stay on it.”