Esophageal cancer patient Jim Murphy: What I learned from cancer

January 11, 2015 | by Denise Heady

patinet riding mountain bike Esophageal cancer patient Jim Murphy never let cancer take over his life during his treatment at City of Hope. He continued to bike ride and ski during chemotherapy and radiation.

Sales and marketing executive Jim Murphy first came to City of Hope in 2002 to donate blood for a friend who was being treated for esophageal cancer.

The disease is serious. Although esophageal cancer accounts for only about 1 percent of cancer diagnoses in the U.S., only about 20 percent of patients survive at least five years after diagnosis. Murphy wanted to do whatever he could to help.

His friend successfully beat the cancer and is still doing well today ­— 12 years after diagnosis. Then, in 2012, Murphy began to have trouble swallowing. An avid mountain biker and skier who knew how "healthy" was supposed to feel, Murphy knew something wasn't right. He made an appointment with his physician for an endoscopy.


Just before Christmas, his doctor called him into his office so he could review the test results. Murphy knew the news wouldn’t be good. “When they call you to come in on Christmas Eve, you expect the worst,” he said.

Murphy, then 52, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

Besides talking with his doctor, Murphy researched the disease on his own and was shocked with the information he found. “What I read online was scary,” Murphy said. "It sounded terminal."

He found himself back at City of Hope in January 2012, this time as a patient, to be treated for the same cancer with which his friend had been diagnosed 10 years earlier. He would need to undergo chemotherapy, radiation and surgery to remove the tumor from his esophagus. This would require the removal of two-thirds of his esophagus and one-third of his stomach.

Murphy was willing. “I just wanted to get the cancer removed from my body," he recalled. He was also adamant that his life wouldn't change dramatically.

“When I found out I had cancer, I decided I would make the best of the situation and continue living a normal life,” Murphy said. “Cancer is not a death sentence, it’s a disease.”

Esophageal cancer patient Jim Murphy Esophageal cancer patient Jim Murphy advises other cancer patients: "Use cancer to reset your lifestyle." 

Bolstering that mindset, Murphy quickly learned that statistics don’t always pertain to individuals. Throughout chemotherapy and radiation treatment, Murphy never missed a day of work, rode his bike at least three times a week, continued his duties with the National Ski Patrol at Bear Mountain and refused to take the elevator while undergoing treatment at City of Hope, using the stairs to signal his refusal to succumb to the disease and treatment side effects.

He maintained his lifestyle with the approval from his oncologist Marwan Fakih, M.D., the Arthur & Rosalie Kaplan Chair in Medical Oncology, and his radiation oncologist Yi-Jen Chen M.D., Ph.D., and cardiothoracic surgeon Jae Kim, M.D., despite their surprise at his resolve.

“Your body still functions even though you have cancer,” Murphy said. “I wasn’t going to allow the treatments to slow me down.”

Murphy completed his treatment in April 2013, and has now been in remission for 20 months. His journey went as smoothly as any patient could hope, and he now uses his experience to inspire others who are currently undergoing cancer treatment.

Here, Murphy shares five pieces of advice for people who have been recently diagnosed with cancer:

  1. Replace "why?" with "what?" Focus the discussion and your energy on moving forward with your treatment plan. You do have cancer, so the "why?" won't help you now. Your initial response can galvanize your resolve in this fight. Engage your medical team now.
  1. Lean on the three F's: Faith, Family and Friends. Open up and take them on the journey with you. Your faith and support network can prove very powerful in this fight. There is strength in numbers, and you’ll find out how often their encouragement is better than medicine.
  1. Don't let cancer know you're coming. Be diligent at keeping your life as normal as possible for as long as you can. A sense of normalcy can promote a positive outlook to your current circumstance. Sneak up on it like it did to you!
  1. Use cancer to reset your lifestyle. Eat better food, get your body in better physical shape and strengthen your mind using meditation as part of your treatment regimen. Spiritual wellness can also be an amazing source of comfort and peace.
  1. Inspire others throughout your fight. That inspiration will be returned to you tenfold. I created a blog to communicate my progress, never having blogged before, and found the response from others kept me inspired throughout my battle until that day I could once again call myself cancer-free.

Learn more about City of Hope's esophageal cancer treatment and esophageal cancer research at City of Hope.

Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.


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