by Sloane M. Perron
Linda Brossi Murphy of Boylston, Massachusetts, is a cancer survivor. Throughout her cheekily titled book, Fuck Off, Cancer, Murphy shares candid details about her diagnosis, her changing body, losing her hair, maintaining a healthy sex life during chemo, and the importance of an occasional glass of wine.
Murphy’s story begins four years ago during what she describes as a “mid-afternoon romp” with her husband, David, during which she discovered a lump in her breast. The lump was originally diagnosed as being hormonally induced, but when it persisted she was referred to to UMass Memorial Hospital in Worcester.
On Halloween, Murphy got the bad news that, yes, she had cancer.
The good news, however, was that her cancer was rated “ light to medium” by the doctor, and was treatable. It was an aggressive form of breast cancer, however, and Murphy wound up receiving five different forms of chemotherapy over a year and a half.
Despite her naturally positive outlook, the treatments took a heavy toll on her body. “Cancer does not make you sick,” Murphy said, “Cancer treatments make you sick.”
After a couple of weeks of chemotherapy, Murphy’s hair began falling out in clumps, along with her eyelashes and eyebrows. She texted pictures of the hairballs to family and friends and asked for help naming the hairballs. They came up with Tom and Jerry, Rooster, Timmy and Tommy, and Cheech and Chong.
“I am against shaving your head,” she said. “Any hairs that want to stay, can.” Eventually, Murphy bought three wigs that allowed her to become a blonde, a redhead, or a brunette, according to her whim. Her husband never knew what his wife was going to look like, she chuckled. She began to see the importance of wigs to people going through chemotherapy, and some of the proceeds from sales of her book will be donated to wig salons to purchase wigs (and wine, of course–may as well make the most of the situation) for their clients.
Murphy was touched by the outpouring of support she received from loved ones, “My family was awesome,” she said. “I have a great group of family and friends.” She developed the idea of “chemo parties,” where different family members and friends would drive her to Mass General Hospital in Boston for her treatments, spend the day with her in the hospital, and then enjoy time in Boston together. Murphy always brought cookies for all of the nurses. The staff became a second family to her, she said.
Throughout the course of her recovery, Murphy documented and photographed almost every aspect of the experience, from initially discovering the lump to her last day of treatment and being able to ring the bell at the radiation department of Mass General, a tradition that signaled the end of one’s radiation treatment.
Murphy’s goal in writing “F Off Cancer” was to remove the stigma and fear that commonly surrounds cancer. She’s grateful, she says, for good health insurance, a strong support system, and a reliable car to get her back and forth to Boston. If her diagnosis with cancer means that a poor, single mother waitressing tables with no insurance does not get it, then Murphy would not change anything about her ordeal with cancer. In her mind, the death of a child, chronic pain, and ALS are all much worse than the experience she had.
Her family brought the same playful spirit to the experience. Murphy recalled waking up one night and saying to her husband, “We have the best life ever.” He responded, “You are aware that you are going through cancer, right?”
A lot of such humor, as well as introspection and raw emotion are all to be found in in Murphy’s book. And she hopes that telling cancer to “f*** off” she can inspire others to face the obstacles they must overcome in their own lives with humor–and perhaps a glass of wine.
Sloane M. Perron is agraduate of Anna Maria College in Paxton, Massachusetts She enjoys writing in all forms and has a passion for telling the stories of others.