GMC’s Sarah Murphy hopes to help others as she faces cancer


I have cancer.

About a month ago doctors diagnosed me. You can only imagine my shock as a girl in her mid-twenties hearing that she has that dreaded “C” word.

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After pretending nothing was wrong for almost a year, I can’t pretend any more. I have to face the reality at the end of this week when I leave to go to Massachusetts for treatment.

I have cancer.

I started to realize something wasn’t exactly normal early last December. I didn’t say anything to anyone, because I was just hoping that it was a wisdom tooth that was having some trouble coming through and in fear of hearing something I didn’t want to. Eventually, though, doctors told me what no one ever wants to hear.

I have cancer.

I want to share my story now hoping that it inspires you to listen to your body when it talks to you. Something I wish I did a lot sooner.

Doctors say I have a polymorphous low grade adenocarcinoma (PLGA) on the roof of my mouth. For a while now, I’ve just been calling it my “Bubble.” You might be thinking, “If you knew something was wrong since December, why not get it looked at?” Again, I was embarrassed to admit that something was wrong, so I turned a blind eye hoping everything would just work itself out.

June is when the pain started really to be unbearable at times. The headaches were increasingly common, increasingly stronger, and my “Bubble” no longer looked like just a bubble. Thankfully when it got to be too much to handle, my parents, who are both nurses, were visiting from Massachusetts. Again I was scared, so I just joked around with them and told them to look at the “Bubble” growing in my mouth and laughed it off. They didn’t find me funny. They knew something was wrong, and that I needed to see a doctor as soon as I could get in.

After seeing a couple of doctors in the Wilmington area, they advised me, not knowing it was cancer, but just by looking at the size of the mass, that I would have to go to Chapel Hill or Duke to get the care I needed. At this point they all thought it was a benign tumor.

Regardless of what the tests showed I was going to have to get surgery. My parents and I decided that the best course of action was to come back to Massachusetts to be with them during recovery, so I started seeing doctors at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

A couple weeks after my first appointment in Boston I still hadn’t heard anything. I was in this mentally excruciating limbo of not knowing if it was a harmless tumor or if it was cancer. August 25 was when I found out for sure.

I have cancer.

Labor Day weekend I flew back up to Massachusetts for appointments and to formulate a plan of attack for conquering this thing.

Some of the doctors think the tumor is about the size of a golf ball. Because it is located on the roof of my mouth, I have to have to have a prosthetic pallet, similar to a retainer, made for me to wear while I heal. Surgeons say they are going to leave the hole where the tumor was in my mouth for about a year before I can have reconstructive surgery.

My surgery is scheduled for October 1. Doctors are hoping they will be able to resect the tumor with all the cancerous cells that day, but if they can’t I will have to undergo six weeks of radiation five days a week. Right now radiation is just a “what-if,” because so much is contingent on the surgery. It’s hard not to let your mind wander with all these variables.

Right now though, I am focusing on October 1.

The good news is that my doctors say that even though it seems like my world is crashing down on top of me, this PLGA is not an emergency situation. That has given me and my loved ones some peace of mind.

On Saturday I am leaving on a jet plane, and I honestly don’t know when I’ll be back again. I just know I will be back. Until then, it is OK to be afraid and hear something you never wanted to hear. Like I said, listen to your body. Catch the problem before it gets too big. Don’t make the mistake I did by just hoping it would go away or get better or just be nothing. I found out the hard way, that’s a bad course of action.

I don’t say any this to get sympathy. I say this because if I can convince one person to learn from my lesson, it will make a huge difference.

I know life can seem hopeless at times, but if you reach out for help and can admit you need it, it is truly amazing the amount of love and support you’ll get in return. I’ve been amazed at what’s come back to me just because of three simple but very scary words.

I have cancer.