Banishing “what if;” How one couple allowed cancer to make them stronger

November 16, 2016 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

If you’ve ever wondered exactly what happens during chemotherapy, read Michelle Murdock’s blog.

It’s filled with particulars on everything from the nitty-gritty effects of treatment to the impact cancer has had on her family.

Her perspective as a cancer patient is perfectly conveyed by the blog’s name: Positively Surviving Cancer. She and her husband, Brian, both 37, of Plainfield, have each undergone cancer treatment at Edward Hospital over the last year.

While the dual cancer diagnoses could be enough to put someone over the edge, the Murdocks – working parents of two kids, ages 3 and 6 – have chosen to look at it differently.

They’ve decided that they’re winning this fight.

Truly, they feel they have no choice. As parents, they’re going to be there for their children. They’re going to be there for each other.

Refocusing

It hasn’t been that simple, though. Cancer can be terrifying, even for positive thinkers.

Brian was first diagnosed with cutaneous B cell lymphoma in May 2015.

“When I was first told I had cancer, I was a wreck,” he said, adding that, even as an Army veteran with practice keeping his emotions in check, he still lost it.

“After some time to process what was happening, I collected myself and moved on. This was just another problem, like any other problem I had faced in my life, and I would face it the same way. Identify the problem, formulate a solution to said problem, and then execute the solution.”

He spent the summer in treatment while Michelle fought off panic attacks and allowed the terror of “what if” to take over her mind.

Then, in February 2016, she felt a lump in her breast that was soon diagnosed as stage 2B invasive ductal carcinoma.

“How can this be happening to both of us? Hadn’t we had already been through enough?” Brian thought.

It was then, just when things were looking even darker, Michelle adopted a positive outlook.

“I just decided I’m not going to spend time worrying about things I can’t change,” she said, adding that, given their personal experiences, she and Brian are perfectly suited for supporting each other through cancer.

“I was filled with so much worry,” Brian said. “Thankfully, my wife and children are amazing, and I needn’t have worried.  As a family we looked for the positive and enjoyed life.”

Anything frightening was reframed as “empowering.” Michelle took control and shaved her head (making it a family event) before all of her hair fell out.

She looked forward to her trips to Edward Cancer Center for treatment, viewing them not only as an opportunity to get out of the house, but a chance to see her friends, the nurses and doctors at the hospital.

“I’m amazed by the conversations my doctors remember that we’ve had,” Michelle said. “My doctors care about me and my family. They’ve really blown my mind.”

Michelle finished her last radiation treatment at Edward Cancer Center on Oct. 4. While Michelle was in treatment, Brian’s cancer relapsed. He has finished weekly treatments and is scheduled to receive treatment at Edward every other month for the next three years.

“At least he gets to keep his hair,” Michelle joked.

Getting through by helping others

Their kids know little detail about their parents’ illnesses, but they do know that mom and dad have been sick. They have followed their parents’ positive example and stepped up as a support system, providing hugs, holding their parents’ hands when they need a shot or telling them how brave they are.

Michelle said her blog has also been an outlet for support and comfort throughout her treatment.

“It helps me to help other people. That’s what I’ve really gotten from it,” she said. “Helping them helps me, just sharing my experience.”

Michelle has tapped into a vast virtual support group through blogging, Twitter and Instagram, and has built a network of followers/empathizers. They give her blog ideas through their questions and fears, she gives them honesty and specifics.

Her blog was even featured by Joan Lunden.

It’s evident that the positive attitude she displays on her blog – one memorable entry describes her “laughable moments,” which included her cat attacking her wigs and her husband mistaking her for a mannequin without her hair – is contagious. Commenters thank her for sharing her life online.

“At first, I didn’t think anybody would be interested. But I have so many women reaching out to me,” she said. “It’s terrible that this is what’s brought us together. But it’s really an awesome thing.”

Cancer has become an unlikely gift, and has knit the Murdock family together more tightly than ever before.

“While most would say we’re unlucky to have both gotten cancer, we would say we’re lucky to have found one another & be able to go through this together,” Michelle wrote in her blog.

Cancer is a journey that no one expects to take. At Edward-Elmhurst Health, our cancer experts will partner with you every step of the way.

Edward-Elmhurst Health offers leading-edge breast technology and care.

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