A ‘Unique’ Year: One Freshman’s Experiences With COVID-19, A Tumor, & Living In A Hotel

If you asked freshman Madison Miller to describe her first year as a Penn Stater in one word, she would tell you it’s been “unique.” But that would be an understatement at best.

As a freshman broadcast journalism major, she secured an internship with Penn State Athletics, joined CommRadio, Centre News Digest, PSNews, and the Association for Women in Sports Media (AWSM). But it isn’t just her extensive involvement that’s contributed to a crazy first year.

In October, Miller tested positive for COVID-19. A following a few months of recurring symptoms and headaches, she found out she had a tumor pressing against her sinus cavity. Now, while still recovering from her surgery, Miller is living the suite life at the Scholar Hotel in downtown State College.

Oddly enough, Miller’s unique Penn State experience began before she even set foot on campus. On March 11, 2020, better known as the day that COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic, she was supposed to tour campus.

Miller was living in North Halls during last fall when she started to experience what she thought was an allergic reaction in her throat. She and her roommate went to go get COVID-19 spit tests just to be safe. Miller also went to a local MedExpress to get extra testing for COVID-19 and strep throat.

Both tests from MedExpress came back negative, and further lab results told her she was negative for COVID-19. But Miller’s on-campus spit test results revealed she was positive for COVID-19. From there, she went to Eastview Terrace to quarantine on campus for five days.

Following her quarantine, she still had trouble breathing and recurring headaches well after her COVID-19 diagnosis. When she went home to New Jersey, Miller visited different doctors to find out what was wrong.

“I got out [of quarantine] on November 5, and I had symptoms until probably New Year’s Eve,” Miller said. “I just was so sick, so I went to a pulmonologist, and I went to the ear, nose, and throat doctor. They were like ‘Hey, we think your lung could be collapsed. We want you to go get a chest x-ray at the hospital.’”

Prior to this, Miller had a CT scan done by the E.N.T to see what was causing her recurring headaches. During a telehealth visit with her E.N.T., she found out that she had an osteoma – a benign bone tumor – pressing against her sinus cavity near her right eye.

Courtesy of Madison Miller

Miller met with an eye surgeon on February 7 and had her surgery done by February 12. Thankfully, no incisions were necessary to get the tumor out. Her surgeon was able to go in through her right nostril and remove the tumor. Because of the size of the tumor, things had to move quickly for the sake of Miller’s health.

Her surgeon said it needed to be removed as soon as possible to avoid growth and worsening health effects, Miller said.

As if it wasn’t terrifying enough to have a tumor removed, Miller had to go into surgery alone — a first for her since her mom has always been with her for previous ones.

“I had to go into the hospital alone, do the registration alone, [and] signed all the papers alone. I had to sit in the bed and wait for it all alone…It was really scary going in there by myself because I didn’t have my mom to calm me down,” she said.

Following her surgery, Miller went back to the hospital two days later because her face swelled up. It turned out that she had a tissue growth in her nose that grew after her surgery. Once it was removed, she was finally all set to go.

As she recovered from her surgery, she wanted to make sure that she could get back to State College so that she could continue to be involved in all her extracurriculars and be surrounded by people her age.

Although she couldn’t come back to campus before February 15 due to the closure of on-campus dorms, Miller found that living in a hotel would be significantly cheaper than living in North Halls. Instead of needing to share a room and eat dining hall food, Miller gets a room all to herself and can cook her own food at the newly opened Scholar Hotel.

The Scholar Hotel in downtown State College (Tom Agudo | Onward State)

She luckily didn’t need to go through any part of her recovery alone. She credits her mom and the friends she’s made at Penn State for helping her get through her daunting experience.

“The support system I have here at Penn State is awesome,” Miller said. “My first semester I met some amazing kids, and everyone kept checking up on me. They sent me presents [and] get-well baskets. I’ve never had that type of friendship before in my life.”

Miller said that despite everything that was thrown her way, she knows that keeping a positive attitude and rolling with the punches is the best way you can deal with unexpected challenges.

“You can overcome anything that comes your way if you just put your mind to it — as long as you keep a positive attitude because life is what you make it,” she said. “It is what it is. I was dealt a tough hand the past two semesters, but I kept going with it.”

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About the Author

Mackenzie Cullen

Sadly, Mackenzie graduated from Penn State in 2022. She majored in English and served as one of Onward State's associate editors. You can keep up with her life and send compliments to @MackenzieC__ on Twitter.

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