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A Life of Joy and Gratitude after a Cancer Diagnosis

Patient Stories

by Patti Murphy

Twenty-five years ago, Patti Murphy received a terrifying cancer diagnosis and faced an uncertain future. In this guest post on Focus, and in honor of National Doctors’ Day on March 30, she shares her story of hope and survival. Patti also expresses her deep gratitude for the life-saving care and compassion she received from Dr. Mark Varvares at Mass. Eye and Ear.

A World Shifted

“It is cancer,” said Dr. Mark Varvares, taking my hand as I lay in recovery after surgery.

My world shifted irrevocably at that moment. I was 39 years old and the mother of three young children. I came to Mass. Eye and Ear after discovering a small lump in my neck and now had a diagnosis of adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare cancer of the salivary glands that I had not heard of until that very moment. All at once, my hectic life comprised of children, car pools, work and too little sleep seemed infinitely precious and all too fragile.

After reeling from the initial shock of my cancer diagnosis, I looked at Dr. Varvares and said, “I need to live long enough to see my youngest through high school. She is not quite three years old.”

“Okay,” said Dr. Varvares. “We will make that happen.”

And so my journey began.

Staying Positive through a Difficult Time

Through the next long months of radical surgery and debilitating radiation, Dr. Varvares was by my side, listening to my fears and concerns and encouraging me to stay positive. He took the time to ask about my children and told me about his. He always saw me as a person first and not as my cancer.

At one point, in the midst of a difficult time, Dr. Varvares told me about a woman he had seen in clinic who was 85 years old and had survived for many years with my diagnosis.

“That is what I want for you,” he said.

I have held that woman in my mind over the years, through all the setbacks and subsequent surgeries, and visualize her indomitable spirit to this day.

Patti (second from right) with her daughters (from left to right) Eliza, Camille and Johannah

Living Fully and Joyfully

Today, twenty-five years have passed since my initial diagnosis. Despite the bumps in the road and the inevitable setbacks and sorrows, I have been able to work and live my life fully and joyfully. I have practiced law, illustrated books and taught Latin, with other stops in between. A voracious reader, I read everything from dark Scandinavian mysteries to The New Yorker and delight in doing crossword puzzles and creating art. I am passionate about travel and hope to do more. I consider the fjords of Norway to be among the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.

My children have also grown and prospered and I find great joy in watching them live their lives. My oldest daughter was recently ordained as a Unitarian Universalist minister and my next oldest is a painter and a farmer. My youngest daughter has graduated from high school and college, and now works in advertising in Manhattan.

I am grateful for my life, my family and for every day on this planet. And I am grateful for the care, empathy and humanity of Dr. Mark Varvares at Mass. Eye and Ear.

About the author

Patti lives in Watertown, MA and is the curriculum coordinator at an elementary school. She designs quilts and frequents second-hand stores, listens to Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen incessantly, and is planning her next trip to Slovenia.

Has a Mass. Eye and Ear doctor changed your life or the life of someone you love? Join Patti in saying “thanks!” by showing your support in time for Doctors’ Day.

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