John’s journey from cancer patient to cancer volunteer
By Cancer Council NSW
Many of us wouldn’t think twice about eating at a restaurant. But for John Murphy, sitting down to his first meal of pork cutlets after being treated for head and neck cancer was a turning point. “It took me an hour and a half to finish them, and it was fantastic,” John said.
“After spending five years re-learning how to swallow food, it was so uplifting.”
In 2009, John was diagnosed with a squamous cell carcinoma on the base of his tongue. “I first thought something might be wrong when I developed a lump under my jawline on the right side of my face in 2008,” John said.
“When the doctor told me I had cancer, it was surreal. I was in no man’s land and I was thinking the worst. I wondered if it was going to kill me.”
John’s treatment begins in October with 33 radiation session over seven weeks and three overnight chemotherapy sessions. To help him lie still during the radiation therapy, John was fitted with a plastic immobilisation mask.
“It was pretty distressing initially. When they clipped the mask down, it was very claustrophobic and it took three and sometimes four goes before I was okay to keep going,” he said.
Cancer Council is there for everybody and they’re there for all cancers, it doesn’t matter what you’ve got.
– John Murphy
After a week of radiation therapy, it became difficult for John to swallow. His doctors decided it was no longer safe for him to eat and he had a feeding tube inserted into his stomach, which would be his main source of nutrition for the next seven months.
“Eating – or not eating – became such a big thing,” John explained. “My Christmas dinner in 2009 consisted of stuff in my PEG tube.”
Seeing a need for a local support group, John became one of the founding members of the head and neck cancer support group at the Mater hospital.
Once his treatment was finished, John spent five years learning to eat normal food again and coping with a dry mouth. Now 10 years on, John is cancer-free and able to eat “almost anything”.
In 2011 John joined the Newcastle – Lake Macquarie Relay For Life committee, and in 2017 he began volunteering as a Transport to Treatment driver.
“I saw it as another way to volunteer my time and assist the cancer family. During my own treatment I was fortunate to live close to the hospital, but many of the clients we assist have considerable distances to travel,” John said.
“The clients may have been in a chemotherapy session for up to four hours or in the middle of a series of radiation treatments and are often very tired. Being driven home is a godsend to them.”
He thanked the wonderful supporters who make services like Transport to Treatment possible.
“Cancer Council is there for everybody and they’re there for all cancers, it doesn’t matter what you’ve got. Cancer Council covers everybody, they provide an excellent support network with a range of services available. Cancer Council staff and volunteers really go above and beyond,”’ he said.