Faith, Family, Friends

A Prescription for Surviving Cancer and the Havoc it Wreaks

He was a union truck driver in New York City. A confident litigator in the courtroom.

Still, Kevin Murphy held his breath.

When he gave his daughters the tell-all book he wrote about his family's battle with cancer, which threatened the life of his former wife and unborn child, he was not sure how they would react.

"They loved it," he says. He smiles with relief, and his tone speaks volumes of the love he has for Elizabeth and Kathleen who both defied overwhelming odds simply by being born and being healthy.

Surviving Cancer After Surviving Cancer is the intimate recounting of how Murphy and his then-wife dealt with the fumbled diagnosis of Hodgkin's disease and her courageous decision to protect the life of the baby she carried. She and the child survived; the marriage did not.

The book's available at Joseph-Beth Booksellers and at Amazon.com. Profits from the book go to the Phyllis Foundation, a non-profit that spreads the message to cancer victims.

It's not an airplane read, unless you don't mind strangers watch you cry.

It started as a short story, Murphy allows, but "I was encouraged to open my veins." It's honest, brutally so. But so was the cancer that struck the young couple just as they started their family. "We tried to carry on as if our lives had not been turned upside down. Each night we struggled to find conversation "¦ But silence entered our home, right on the heels of the cancer," he writes. All the while, Murphy says, "an invisible monster was invading our house."

It became a road map for couples dealing with the physical and emotional consequences of the disease. Friends encouraged him to be honest and open to not only help other couples going through it, but in the hope it would prompt them to get help in a similar situation.

Along the Way

Dr. Bernie Siegel, known internationally for his books on patient empowerment since 1986's Love, Medicine & Miracles, wrote the introduction. He encourages people to "learn from Kevin's book to kill with kindness "¦ Don't fight the enemy of divorce or cancer, but work at healing your life and relationships "¦"

"Are you really a lawyer?" Siegel just had to ask after reading the manuscript, Murphy says. He was surprised by his openness in sharing both the pain and his own shortcomings.

Dick Vitale, of college basketball fame, met Murphy while he was scribbling a manuscript in a coffee shop in Florida. Vitale asked to look at it when he finished. "Like the clueless man, I am," says Murphy, he sent it. Vitale loved it. He writes in a book cover blurb, "But men "” take heed. Read this book and learn that when cancer comes to you, your wife or a family member, it is okay to pray, weep, and most important, seek help from others."

Just months after publication, Murphy is doing retreats at churches, book signings, speaking to groups and talking with a national church about putting the book on video. Men might not pick up a self-help book or say 'yes' to a support group, but a video, that's a possibility.

At Home

Now at home in Union, Ky., and working in the Fort Mitchell office of Graydon Head, Murphy loves Northern Kentucky for the chance to raise his family here.

Elizabeth, born while her mom delayed cancer treatments, is 25. Kathleen, born after doctors told her parents that radiation treatments eliminated any chance for another child, is 22.

Murphy is active in the community "” Children's Law Center Board, Northern Kentucky Convention Center Board, Ohio Valley Goodwill Industries, and his alma mater Salmon P. Chase College of Law. And his church, First Church of Christ in Burlington.

He clerked for a federal judge and is one of the "Best Lawyers in America." His work keeps him busy, but he was convinced this book deserved his time by people who told him it could help so many others.

It's a Guy Thing

Men don't cry, don't share and they don't ask for directions.

"You know Jesus fell three times going up the hill," Murphy says, "and each time he accepted help."

In sports and in battle, men help each other by training and instinct. In a family crisis, many men often take the position that it is their responsibility to keep things afloat, especially financially, and any failure is on them. In the fight against cancer, the bills pile up and work suffers. Murphy says he moved from fear to anxiety to anger.

"Anger is a useless emotion, it's just making you feel worse. The answer is you ask for help, the one thing that men hate to do. The word 'support group' gives men hives."

But, Murphy says, "It's a real good sign of your manhood when you say 'I want to get as much help as I can.' "

In chapter after chapter (each ends with the lawyerly "Lessons Learned,") Murphy drives home the point: Ask for help. From family, friends, church and colleagues. Accept help. Even from strangers.

And it did come from strangers. Because his wife was a pregnant cancer patient, doctors sent the couple to Stanford University Hospital. They were tapped out "” renting a house in California and paying a mortgage back in Kentucky. Their car gave out, so they rode in cabs to the hospital. One day in the waiting room, a stranger wearing shorts and a Led Zepplin T-shirt asked Murphy how he was doing. Murphy spilled his story. Later that day, a woman came to the rental house with keys to a Cadillac "” a loan from the man in the waiting room.

"Our landlord told his church ... and people started showing up, bringing food."

EMOTIONAL Reaction

"What's been overwhelming to me is when I stand up in front of an audience, I become emotional, I can't get through it," Murphy says of the memories, the struggles and what he wishes he had done differently.

It's the same for the audiences. Men hang around to talk to Murphy, tell their stories and share the similarities. Almost looking for permission to set their anger aside and ask for help. One, a giant of a man, "almost broke my ribs" with a hug. He told Murphy that it was not the cancer that had broken him, it was the financial ruin that it brought. As he and his wife listened to Murphy, he realized it was anger that was destroying him. The waterfall started, Murphy says of the tears.

"Just by being honest, it is resonating beyond my wildest dreams."

The book explains, he says, "Here's the path that I walked. It was wrong. I did a lot of good things" but he's learned crucial life lessons. "Faith, family, friends."

Siegel told him he would write the foreword "if you preach it from the mountaintops."

So, he is.