Bones Of Titanium & Nerves Of Steel
● By Robert Frey
Peyton Murphy’s Battle With Osteosarcoma
By Suzanne Ferrara
“The payoff is that I have my life back, and I appreciate life more than most people. I believe this has allowed me to enjoy life more than the average person.” Those are the wise words of 18-year-old Peyton Murphy who was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (a rare type of bone cancer) in March of this year.
Peyton’s diagnosis came after he complained about knee pain that would come and go. “He’s never really been sick and never complained, so I took him to see Dr. Sagrera who ordered an x-ray and then an MRI.” And that’s when they received the ill-fated news. “When we sat in that doctor’s office and those words ‘you have cancer’ came out, I cried even more than everyone else,” recalls his father, Treg. “Peyton was more composed than anyone; he put his hands on his face for a second, but he immediately said, ‘What is the plan of action and what do I need to do to beat this thing?’” Peyton’s mother, Taylr, was understandably stunned as well. “I was in shock, and did not want to believe it. I still have a hard time believing it,” she says.
So, that knee pain Peyton was initially complaining about? That was actually the tumor on the femur putting pressure on his knee. Everything was immediately turned upside down, and Peyton, who was a senior at Westgate High School in New Iberia at the time, could not attend his senior trip or start college like his friends. Since March 14th – the date of his diagnosis – Peyton has endured all of the trials and tribulations that go with chemotherapy: blood transfusions, mouth sores (to the point he could not swallow water), nausea and pain.
“What else are you going to do? Bask in self-pity or stay the course? The first couple of weeks, he showed no sign of depression and I was preparing myself for him to be depressed down the line. But he met every challenge and discomfort head on,” adds Treg.
One of his most challenging moments was when doctors placed a titanium prosthetic in his leg, which is over a foot long, and that has required intense physical therapy. “He can walk because of this prosthetic, and soon he will walk normally. Each end of the prosthetic slips into the bone and the bone grows around it,” says Taylr.
Peyton and his family’s sights are on November 6th, the magic date when he is scheduled to have his final chemo treatment. “I can’t wait to go back to work at the restaurant, Hook and Boil, where I was working before all this started, and I am really looking forward to college. My friends already started, but I have to wait until January.”
When you ask Peyton what his experience has taught him, he immediately responds, “It has taught me to have faith in God and to have patience. I think my faith reassured me that no matter what happens, whether I’m cancer-free in six months or terminal, there is always positivity in a bad situation. I was willing to accept anything.”
To say Murphy got a strong dose of reality on life’s fragility is an understatement. “It felt terrifying that anything can happen. It’s an understatement to say it is scary, because you really have no control; and if it spreads, you can’t control that. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.”
Doctors at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tn., removed 20 centimeters of his femur bone and the tumor, and while the tumor is gone, Murphy has to continue chemotherapy “as an insurance policy,” he says. There’s not enough space in this article to describe how Murphy feels about St. Jude Hospital, which will forever be a part of his heart and soul. “It is unworldly, that’s for sure; it’s really a Godly place, it’s amazing, and the positivity there is unbelievable. The little kids walking around connected to feeding tubes with smiles on their faces is a sight to see, and the staff is so caring and positive.” Peyton says he always knew that no matter what happened, everything would be okay, and the people of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital cemented that belief.
Murphy’s story is one that wraps around his family, and the all-consuming, emotional rollercoaster ride over the past six months has taken its toll. “I am worn out, and he (Peyton) is wearing thin,” says a weary Taylr. His mother weeps as she expresses what it was like to watch her son endure so much agony. “It’s so intense and touches you so deep; you can’t explain it as a mom. I never knew my heart could be broken like this watching him, and them giving him poison (chemo) to get better. You just don’t have a choice. Cancer comes in and takes over your life and your whole family.”
Taylr, who is a manager at Fudge IT, her mother’s bakery in New Iberia, had to leave her 55-to-60 hour-a-week job to take care of Peyton and juggle her two other children. “My 10-year-old daughter, Karlee, cries for me because I am always going to the hospital for days at a time with Peyton for his treatments. She worries so much about him.”
While she lost that paycheck, Treg was fortunately hired back a month before Peyton’s diagnosis by Hydraquip, Inc. “My rehiring renewed faith in God, after joining Our Savior’s Church before the diagnosis. It was all in God’s plan,” says Treg.
Treg had to use his three weeks’ paid vacation, and then had to take a month without pay to be there for Peyton during the roughest of times. “Hydraquip paid for the health insurance bill for that month.” The Murphys depleted their savings, and have been living from treatment-to-treatment. “God has provided all through this,” says Treg. In addition to fundraisers, Taylr’s sister set up an account on YouCaring.com called ‘Team Peyton.’ “The goal is $5,000; that would set us up to the last treatment in November. There’s $2,000 in it right now.”
But through all the challenges and treatments, Peyton has kept his faith and a great attitude. “He is my hero, and I am so proud of the air he breathes. He has never wavered! I don’t think I could be as courageous as him; he is truly one of a kind,” says his father. Peyton uses a bit of sarcasm on the nights before he heads to Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge (a St. Jude satellite hospital) for his chemo treatments and hospital stays: “Oh, we are getting ready to go to the ‘Hell-of-a-Day-Inn.’”
In addition to living a normal life again, Peyton has his eyes on something else: the Make-A-Wish Foundation has arranged a special gift for Peyton, namely, a trip to Hawaii. “I’ll be cancer-free and spending time with the family, and we can all celebrate. This is really a gift for the whole family because this has had a big impact on my siblings and my mother and father. It has changed our lifestyle for half a year.”
While that joyful trip is more immediate, the biggest payoff has been that of awareness. “It’s an eye-opener,” says Peyton. “It changed my life, how I think, and my perspective on everything. I will not take my health for granted, being able to walk and to do normal things.”
“Those were my darkest days, but some of my best days, too. Even though I had this situation, it helped me get closer to God and my family. It made us stronger.”