During the summer of 2016 I did an internship with Insite Magazine, a monthly publication about people, places, and events in the Brazos Valley. I’ve really loved this internship (I still do, since I’m still working here as of the time of this post.)
This story is about Jim Murphy, a two-time cancer survivor who was the honorary co-chair for the 2016 Brazos Valley Cattle Baron’s Ball. It was published in the July issue of the magazine, you can read the text below:
Jim Murphy likes to refer to himself as a two-time “cancer thriver.” He does not think of himself as a victim of cancer; he sees cancer as an illness, like any other disease. For Murphy, cancer has been a recurring problem in his life. “I get cancer every 30 years,” says Murphy, with a hint of his signature wry humor.
Murphy’s first bout with cancer occurred when he was only 25 years old. Three weeks before his wedding, Murphy was diagnosed with testicular cancer, the same cancer famous cyclist Lance Armstrong successfully battled. After his initial diagnosis, things moved quickly. Murphy recalls being diagnosed on a Tuesday and having surgery on Thursday to remove his right testicle. Fifteen radiation treatments followed by five years of monitoring and Murphy was declared cured.
Thirty years later, Murphy notes, “I have two kids, so everything still worked. I did get a vasectomy 10 years ago, and I was a little upset when they didn’t give me a half-off discount.”
Murphy says his first bout with cancer gave him a new perspective on life in which he cherishes every day. He was always, in his words, a “snackaholic,” but has stayed lean over the years thanks to an overactive metabolism. After the first cancer diagnosis, though, he started eating a healthier diet. He also took up jogging.
“I was a casual jogger for about 20 years,” he says. “About three times a week I would go for a run for about 20 minutes. I would do a 5K maybe once a decade.”
With the desire to get healthier, Murphy started increasing his running time. Initially he tried to go from running for 20 minutes to 40 minutes. Murphy, and his wife, agreed that was a bad idea. He changed strategies, incrementally increasing his distance. Adding a tenth of a mile at a time, he slowly worked his way up. In April of 2014 he ran the first annual Water Cooler 5K in Bryan/College Station, his first 5K in 10 years. Murphy loved it; 5Ks became his regular running distance.
In August 2014, cancer once again interrupted Murphy’s life. Now in his 50s, Murphy was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Routine blood tests that were part of Murphy’s annual physical showed an alarming increase in Prostate Specific Antigen levels. Elevated levels of PSA, a chemical produced by the prostate, are a warning sign of prostate cancer. Murphy’s test showed a substantial increase in PSA levels from his previous checkup in 2013.
Murphy’s doctors ordered a biopsy to obtain samples of the prostate tissue. Humor in place, Murphy describes the medical instrument used for the procedure as “a staple gun tied to a broomstick.” Unfortunately, the weeks following the procedure were anything but lighthearted.
DSC_0342Ordered to rest after the biopsy, Murphy was unable to visit his mother in San Antonio even though she was battling pancreatic cancer at the time. She died before Murphy was able to visit one last time. A few days after her death, Murphy’s diagnosis came back: he had prostate cancer.
Murphy’s cancer was caught at a relatively early stage, although his oncologist is confident it will return, and he was presented with two options: undergo radiation therapy for the cancer, or have his prostate removed. Murphy opted for surgery. A period of healing and rest followed.
Cancer did not stop Murphy 30 years ago, and it would not stop him this time, either. Eight weeks after surgery, Murphy ran a mile. The run left him sore and exhausted, but he did it. From December 2014 to March 2015 Murphy worked his way back up to regularly running 5K as a training distance.
In August, Murphy joined the Brazos Runners Club for a 7 a.m. run that started outside Harvey Washbangers. The jog was 5 miles, a new record for Murphy. He continued to run with the group, which had just formed in May. Again, Murphy worked to incrementally increase his running distance. His longest run is now 15 miles; he completed the BCS Half Marathon in December 2015 and the Republic of Texas Half Marathon in February.
Three months ago Murphy’s PSA levels again began to rise incrementally. While doctors say this is a sign that something new medically is going on, no other symptoms of cancer have been detected.
“It’s in the hands of my doctor and God,” Murphy says. “I try to live healthy day-to-day, and that’s all I can do.”
Murphy’s spirited good humor, positive outlook, and never-say-die attitude stand out to many, especially to fellow members of the Brazos Runners Club. Several in the organization are also members of the planning committee for the Cattle Baron’s Ball, an annual western-themed nonprofit event that raises money for the American Cancer Society. Knowing Murphy’s story, his fellow runners asked him to serve as the honorary co-chair of this year’s Cattle Baron’s Ball.
Murphy’s honorary chair duties will include attending a kickoff event in July, sharing his story about his battle against cancer, and attending the fundraising event in October. The BCS chapter of the Cattle Baron’s Ball has a goal of raising $100,000 for cancer research this year.
Despite life throwing curveballs at him every 30 years, Murphy is optimistic. His doctor, he says, is confident that he can keep Murphy going. His personal goal is to simply “love God, love people, make a difference, one day at a time” – and to keep on running.