What Drives Me – by Rachelle Murphy

What Drives Me – by Rachelle Murphy

My name is Rachelle Murphy and this is my story about how I beat breast cancer more than once. My story with cancer goes back to 1993. About a month prior to my diagnosis, my dad had a biopsy of one of his breasts. It was benign. I was not as lucky.

One day I was applying lotion and I discovered a lump, which prompted me to make an appointment to see my primary, Dr. Jerry Speer. He performed an exam and sent me for a mammogram. Unfortunately, the mammogram did not show the lump due to it being located too high up on my chest. My primary referred me to see Dr. Jake Allen, a surgeon. He gave me the option of having a biopsy performed. He removed the lump and within a few hours, they knew I had breast cancer. I was 39 years old when I received the diagnosis.

Thankfully, I had a strong support system between my loving husband and my two children. I was also armed with a positive attitude and a large support system of friends, family, and church. I was going to get through this.

On December 6, I had a lumpectomy and they removed several lymph nodes. Then I had an appointment with Dr. Grant Harrier to review my plan of care. On January 2, 1994, I began my chemo treatments consisting of an infusion followed by pills for two weeks. They had me in a study program aimed at helping to aid future cases. I lost my hair about two treatments into the chemo. I had always had thick hair, even as a baby, so this was an especially difficult part of the journey for me.

Image of Rachelle Murphy during treatment
Rachelle Murphy

I was fortunate enough to maintain my full-time work schedule at Poulsen’s Lumberyard (owned by Harold and Carmen Poulsen) and they were incredibly accommodating to my treatment schedule and recovery days. Thursdays I had infusion and Friday and Saturday were my recovery days, sometimes Sunday as well. My immune system was exhausted and I had to stop treatments the entire month of April due to my dangerously low white blood cell count, a result of the chemo. I was determined, though. I missed very few days of work and kept my positive attitude going. I know the power of prayer and felt the love that came my way. The prognosis was good, also.

June 10, 1994 was a day to celebrate! I had my last chemo treatment in the office. I still had two weeks of pills, but the infusion treatments were complete. On July 5, 1994 I started radiation oncology treatments three days a week through August 23rd. I had to stop treatments as I was getting too burned from the radiation. I teased my Mom and Dad about having treatment for nine months, but there was no baby. Following treatments, I was on Tamoxifen for five years. I also I took Zoladex as a monthly injection in my stomach wall.

5 years later, in 1999, I had finally entered into remission. I felt fine and I was still in remission for another 15 years to follow. I routinely checked myself, had regular mammograms and encouraged everyone to self-check and get their mammograms. I actively participated in a support group and later participated in Relay For Life.

Fast forward to 2010, about 17 years after the initial diagnosis. I was diagnosed with breast cancer again in the same breast. Different spot. Different type of cancer. My doctors were very thorough and I opted for a double mastectomy followed by a reconstruction to eliminate any further risk. I completed the mastectomy in December of 2010, though the reconstruction needed to be done out of town in Seattle. That procedure was completed in September of 2011 with Dr. Santin following my post-op care locally.

The year is late 2011 and I was back in remission. Life was good again.

Then in November of 2017, I was having pain in my right hip. Through a CT scan and subsequent biopsy, it was found that breast cancer had metastasized to my bones. Then a few months later, it expanded to my liver. Thankfully, my liver function has all been normal since. I’ve had no side effects except the occasional pain and hot flashes, but I’ve had hot flashes since 1994. I was put back on Letrazole or Femara that I had been off of for 14 months, along with a new drug called Ibrance. I’ve been given frequent doses of Zomeda via half-hour infusions to help with bone strength.

In 2018, the numbers revealed that the Letrozole I was on was not making a difference. So, I was put on Fasladex injection along with the Ibrance. I finished my last dose of Ibrance around July 2020 and I am now on Tamoxifen every day.

Recently I have been having shoulder pain and saw PA Dave Crossley in Orthopedics. He ordered an x-ray and from that an MRI. There were some abnormalities in the humerus, so I did 10 treatments of radiation. During those treatments, I had a PET scan done, which showed there are scattered areas through and are nothing to be alarmed about. The most painful area right now besides my shoulders is my sternum. I started another round of radiation on September 8, 2020, consisting of five treatments, one every other day.

It is hard to believe I’ve been on this journey for 27 years now. I know I have survived because of the love I have surrounding me as well as the prayers, and I would not be here without the doctors, staff, treatments, and care.

I know that if I were living anywhere in Montana besides Great Falls, it would be a hardship to travel for appointments and treatments. That is why I love the idea of the Poulsen Legacy Foundation housing and the hope it gives people to get through their treatments.

Background and context: What drives me

I come from a very large family. I have 38 cousins (42 total counting my siblings and myself) on my mom’s side alone. Before I was diagnosed, one of my cousins, Sandy, passed from breast cancer. She had gone through diagnosis, chemo and radiation. Then it came back and it was too late for treatment the second time around. This hit our family very hard, so naturally they were all very concerned about me. I wanted them to see in-person that I was better. In October of 1994, I took my first ever plane ride and surprised my grandmother and numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins in Lincoln, NE. My grandmother was 95 at the time. She passed about a year later, on October 9, 1995 at the age of 96, so I was extremely grateful for the time we had and the memories we made that day.

A year after my initial breast cancer diagnosis treatment was completed; my Aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995. We joked with each other, asking if I gave it to her or if she gave it to me. A good sense of humor is everything when dealing with a difficult time. She ended up having a double mastectomy and never had any reoccurrence. She passed peacefully in 2005 in her 80s of natural causes.

Flash forward a few more years to 2002, my younger cousin Debbie was diagnosed with breast cancer. She fought long and hard for about ten years, leaving behind her young son. He just graduated high school this year and is thriving under the care of his aunt, uncle, and extended family. Then again, in 2009, a third cousin Tari was diagnosed with breast cancer and is doing well.

Acknowledgements:

The Great Falls Clinic Cancer Care department has done a fantastic job of taking care of me, and all of their patients. It takes a village. I remember when I was in my support group – one of the other members wanted to do a breast reconstruction and insurance would not pay for her surgery. They would cover the reductions, but not the reconstruction. Dr. Guter, our oncologist, went to Helena and fought for her to have her surgery paid for. When a doctor goes to those lengths, it just goes to show how he is 100% invested in his patients. The trust I have in Dr. Guter has truly been my saving grace. Dr. Underhill in radiation oncology is top of the line, as are the nurses and staff. From Maggie to Leisa in reception, to Sheila, Dr. Guter’s nurse, and all the people behind the scenes from the pharmacy to the nurses who administer chemo and infusions.

Knowing that you do not have to fight this battle alone is powerful. It does not matter if you have faith or religion, but knowing someone is praying for you shows that there is someone who is in your corner and cares.

I have worked at the Great Falls Clinic for 15 years now and I feel the doctors and staff really care about every patient and it shows. I have a great job and love what I do because it feels like we are a family.