Do not be so hard on yourself. I blamed myself and was angry initially when I found out I had cancer. I had to go through some emotions to get to the point of accepting my diagnosis. Once I did that, I was able to learn more about the disease and what my options were for treatment and living with cancer.
Cancer is a horrible and terrifying disease. Yet millions of people have beaten the odds and beat cancer. Authority Magazine started a new series called “I Survived Cancer and Here Is How I Did It”. In this interview series, we are talking to cancer survivors to share their stories, in order to offer hope and provide strength to people who are being impacted by cancer today. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Selena Murphy.
Selena Murphy is a student in Walden University’s PhD in Nursing program and works full-time as a case manager for a medical insurance company. She earned her MSN in Nursing Education from Walden in 2012. Previously, Selena served eight years in the Air Force as a medical service specialist and spent a few years as an adjunct professor for a BSN program. Her current goals are to complete her PhD and become a social change agent in a role through which she can help other cancer patients.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! We really appreciate the courage it takes to publicly share your story. Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your childhood backstory?
I am originally from Cleveland, OH. I have a large family that included four sisters. I have been married for 33 years and have two sons ages 31 and 19. After high school, I joined the Air Force, where I initially worked as an inventory management specialist. After a few years, I cross trained and became a medical service specialist for eight years. This experience awakened my desire to attend nursing school. After I was honorably discharged from the military, I began working as a certified nurse’s aide, then became a licensed practical nurse. Then, I received my associate’s degree in nursing, Bachelor of Nursing and Master of Science in Nursing. I am now working toward completing my PhD in Nursing with a specialization in nursing education at Walden University. I previously worked as a staff nurse for several local hospitals and was an adjunct professor for a BSN program.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” — Reinhold Niebuhr
I realize there are things that I cannot control. I cannot sit around and worry over it. I must live my life. I could not change the fact that I had cancer. I had to learn to accept and deal with the diagnosis and move forward.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about surviving cancer. Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding how you found out that you had cancer?
I fell in my driveway in early 2014. I reached my right arm out and my arm took most of the fall. I had a hairline fracture in my clavicle. Afterwards, I had pain in my right arm and shoulder for several months. I was referred to an orthopedic surgeon and started physical therapy. Before the surgeon would start injections of pain medication for relief, he ordered an MRI as part of the work up. The MRI revealed I had a tumor on my right humerus bone, and I had a biopsy done. On my birthday in 2014, I was told I had stage 3 multiple myeloma, which has an average survival rate around 29 months. I did not hear anything the doctor said after telling me I had cancer.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
For me, the scariest part was not knowing how long I would have to live and how much time I would have with my children. I did not think of myself, I just wanted to be there for them. The biggest worry I had was that the cancer may have been too far along for any treatment. I also had beautiful hair and wore braids at the time, and I was mourning the fact that I was going to lose my hair and be bald. I was also mourning myself as I was, because I knew from this point forward, I would never be the same and felt people would label me as “the one with cancer.” I had also just started my PhD in Nursing program, and worried whether I would live long enough to finish it. I worried about whether I would live to see my children graduate or get married.
How did you react in the short term?
Initially, I was in shock and denial. I did not want to tell anyone unless I absolutely had to, which meant I initially only told close friends and family about my diagnosis. I did not want anyone to pity me or feel sorry for me. I wondered why this had to happen to me. How did I get this diagnosis? I was angry at myself for letting this happen, and angry at God. I felt I was not strong enough to handle it. People had always told me that God never gives you more than you can handle, but I felt very overwhelmed and at a total loss as to why this was happening.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use? What did you do to cope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
As I started treatment, initially getting chemotherapy twice a week, I came to the realization that I will have to fight to be here. I wanted to survive, and I realized I could not do it on my own. I realized help was available and I must accept it. I prayed that the treatment would work. I had finally to come to terms with the fact that I had cancer. I began to accept my diagnosis and the fact that I would have to have a stem cell transplant, which I had in 2015.
Mentally, I decided to have a positive mindset.
Physically, I coped by taking walks when I could. On days when I could not cook or do other chores, I had to remember not to be hard on myself, to tell myself it was OK and to accept help.
Emotionally, I coped by attending a survivorship series program where I connected with other cancer survivors.
Spiritually, I prayed and accepted my cancer diagnosis as part of God’s plan for me and told myself that I was still here for a reason.
Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped you learn to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
I did not have one person who particularly helped me cope and heal more than others. My husband and two sons are the only immediate family I have nearby, and they of course supported me. I had a lot of support from several friends who provided gift cards and home cooked meals for my family while I was in the hospital and recovering from my stem cell transplant. A few friends texted or called me during this time to help lift my spirits. The one constant I had in my life was my mom, Beverly Robinson. My mom called me every day at 10:30 a.m. We talked for about 20 minutes each day about anything but cancer. This helped keep my mind off cancer and helped me to look forward to other things in life.
My student advisor and instructors in my PhD in Nursing program at Walden University were also very helpful when I had medical emergencies. They helped explain to me the different options I had and steps I could take in order to continue in the PhD in Nursing program through my illness. I was even able to take some time off to reflect and reenergize. I am grateful I was able to continue the program and look forward to being able to graduate soon.
In my own cancer struggle, I sometimes used the idea of embodiment to help me cope. Let’s take a minute to look at cancer from an embodiment perspective. If your cancer had a message for you, what do you think it would want or say?
From an embodiment perspective, the cancer was telling me that this was one of toughest battles of my life. I knew I had more to give and do in life and I was not ready to give up. I have chosen to not give up and to fight to be here and be the best person I can be. I hope I can help other cancer survivors and give them hope also.
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? How has cancer shaped your worldview? What has it taught you that you might never have considered before? Can you please explain with a story or example?
One of the things I learned about myself during this experience is that I must remember to take care of myself and make time for myself. Even now, I must slow down and remind myself that I have cancer and I can’t do it all. I also realize I have a lot more resilience and strength than I thought I had to survive. Cancer has changed my worldview because I feel there is no time to waste, and I should make every moment count. Cancer has taught me how to slow down and take one day at a time. Previously, I never took any time for myself. Now, I make time daily to go for a walk, take a bath or meditate.
How have you used your experience to bring goodness to the world?
I try to remind people not to sweat the small stuff. I don’t get upset over things that I cannot change. I try to live my life and enjoy my time with my family and friends, and I try to encourage others to find their inner peace. As a nurse, I always had empathy for patients, but I have even more now that I have gone through this cancer journey.
What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?
The battle continues. Most of the time I feel great. Even though I look fine, there are days I have what can be considered close calls. Every new pain or symptom could mean that the cancer is back. There are times I had to have imaging, labs or other tests. Although I am in remission, there are side effects from stem cell transplant, chemotherapy and immunotherapy that have to be monitored and managed.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give to others who have recently been diagnosed with cancer? What are your “5 Things You Need To Beat Cancer? Please share a story or example for each.
- Do not be so hard on yourself. I blamed myself and was angry initially when I found out I had cancer. I had to go through some emotions to get to the point of accepting my diagnosis. Once I did that, I was able to learn more about the disease and what my options were for treatment and living with cancer.
- Include your village. I did not tell a lot of people about my diagnosis, and that was hard. The more support you have from family and friends, the better.
- Accept offers of help. I initially did not want to rely on anyone for anything. I was so grateful to have support from friends who helped my family and I with meals when we needed them. I also had friends who helped with my children and attended events that I could not go to.
- Find support. The survivor series group I attended was a great experience. I was able to talk with other cancer survivors and share my own experiences with people who understood.
- Make time for self-care. I learned it was important to make time for me. Learning to take care of myself has become an important part of how I deal with my diagnosis. Whether it’s taking a bath, walking or reading — make time for self-care.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?
I want to inspire a movement of empathy and being courteous to each other. These are the moments I hope to inspire. I would encourage each person to love and cherish their family and friends and help one person they don’t know. If you know someone in your community who has cancer, reach out and say hello.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
My first choices would be Oprah Winfrey or Beyoncé.
A famous poet I would love to share a meal with is Amanda Gorman. Her poem that she read during the recent Presidential inauguration was inspiring and I would love to learn more about her as a person.
Locally, I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with David Highfield, from KDKA-TV’s “Your Day Pittsburgh.” He makes me laugh every morning and I know he loves food.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!