By Master Sgt. Bud McKay, 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 04, 2003
MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. (AFPN) -- Reserve Senior Airman Chris Murphy was in the hospital operating room to see the birth of his daughter, Katie, at 11:34 a.m. May 1. Moments later, he told his wife, Reserve Staff Sgt. Becky Murphy, one last "I love you," before he was told to leave so the oncologist could start the fight to save Becky's life.
But Becky did not hear her husband of less than a year say those words, nor did she hear the first cries of her baby.
Against all of her family's and friends' wishes and doctors’ medical advice, Becky, who was diagnosed with aggressive cervical cancer three months into her pregnancy, put off the fight to save her own life so she could give life to her baby.
"The medical advice was to basically have an abortion, have a complete hysterectomy as soon as possible, and start chemotherapy if it was needed," said Becky, now cancer-free and smiling as she watches Chris hold and talk with Katie. "The doctors told me they could freeze my eggs and have another woman be the carrier for another baby, obviously not this one. My friends reminded me that I was adopted and that we could adopt as well."
There was a lot of pressure on Becky and the decisions she had to make were overwhelming.
"I felt like I was all alone," Becky said. "My friends and family were mad ... and I mean mad ... at me for making the choice I did. My brother John called me an idiot. My mom said I was making a mistake. The oncologist said he was disappointed in my decision."
They were disappointed because Becky was told she only had an 85-percent chance of surviving if she had a total hysterectomy when the cancer was first discovered. She had a 45-percent chance of surviving for three to five years if she went through 34 weeks of the pregnancy and then had the hysterectomy.
"No pressure," she said, smiling now and playing with her blonde ponytail. "And, good Lord, my hormones were already flying everywhere and now they (wanted) me to make a decision like this?"
"That was a big one," Chris said, never taking his two hands and deep brown eyes off of Katie as he spoke. "I mean, we had an expert telling us that, obviously, things (did not) look good. My wife wanted a baby, but having a baby meant I was going to lose my wife. For my wife to have a chance to survive meant we had to lose the baby. It was the most unfair thing I could ever think of."
And if things were not already bad enough, the Murphys did not have medical insurance.
"Luckily, we qualified for state insurance, which covered 100 percent of the medical bills for the pregnancy and hysterectomy," Becky said.
Still, Becky would be forced to leave her 10-month job with the USDA Department of Wildlife Research and Chris was activated in February, requiring him to leave his job at the Haines Road Animal Clinic. The Murphys are both reservists with the 446th Aerospace Medicine Squadron here.
With the loss of both incomes, the Murphys would not be able to renew the lease on their apartment and were scrambling to find an affordable place to live.
But that was about the same time their blessings, as they call them, began to come in.
Capt. Cory Myer, 446th AMDS, had a house in Tacoma he was not using and let the couple stay there -- rent free.
Although their housing solution brought some relief, the stress of the situation began to take its toll on Chris and Becky -- they had a hard time talking to each other. That was until Chaplain (Maj.) Carl Supplee saw what the Murphys could not see.
"He told us we weren't communicating ... our feelings to each other about everything that was going on," Chris said. "Once that got through to us, oh man, that helped make things so much easier on us. Once Becky made her decision to have the baby and then face the cancer, I was 100 percent behind her."
After making that decision, Becky went to see her gynecologist in Olympia and perinatologist in Seattle every two weeks. At the perinatologist's office, they would do an ultrasound to check the baby's development. The plan was to wait until 30 - 32 weeks -- or a little more than seven months -- of the pregnancy and perform a Caesarean section. That was about the earliest the baby's lungs would be strong enough for it to survive and the latest the oncologist wanted to wait to perform the hysterectomy.
"Once I made the decision to go on, we quit worrying about it," Becky said. "We buried a lot of worry until close to the end (of the pregnancy). We tried to just roll with the punches."
But at the 32-week mark, when Becky went in for what she thought would be her last ultrasound, the perinatologist said Katie's lungs were still too immature.
"That was such a huge blow to us," Becky said. "We were all geared up and ready -- but now we'd have to wait a little longer."
Finally, at 34 weeks, doctors decided the baby was strong enough to be born. Becky was given a general anesthetic since the hysterectomy would be done the moment the Caesarean was complete.
According to Chris, the Caesarean went as planned. Katie was 5 pounds, 5 ounces and just over 17 inches long when she was born. She was immediately taken to the neonatal intensive care unit, with Chris right behind. While her mother was going through a four-hour operation for the hysterectomy, Katie was put on a ventilator to help her little lungs function properly.
The next day, as the couple celebrated the second day of life for Katie, Becky's oncologist came in to start yet another celebration. He told the young couple it looked like all of the cancer was in the cervix, and he was sure he got it all.
Chris and Becky cautiously celebrated, waiting to get the official word from the tests a few days later. But, after just a few hours, the couple's celebration came to a screeching halt as Chris ran from the ICU when a crisis came up with Katie.
"I told Becky, 'Don't freak out, but Katie's lungs collapsed,' " Chris said. "This wasn't totally unexpected. They did prepare us for it, saying that it was a normal thing. But still ..."
"I thought she was going to die," Becky said, interrupting Chris. "OK, you have to remember that my emotions were really churning at this time and then her lungs (collapsed). What next?"
Katie answered that question herself. Five days later, with determination like her mother's, Katie pulled her ventilator tube out of her chest with her own little hand.
"She said, 'That's enough of that,' " Becky said with a smile.
Katie was breathing fine on her own. Becky remained in the hospital for 10 days and Katie for 18 days. Doctors say Katie, now almost 3 months old, with wisps of light brown hair, blue eyes and long eyelashes, will be fine.
And so will Becky.
"The tests showed the cancer was all in the cervix," Becky said. "They ... got it all.
"The oncologist sat on the end of the bed and said he (could not) explain why the cancer didn't spread like he thought," she added, never losing her smile. "Then he said, 'I guess I was wrong and you were right.'
"You're damn skippy I was right." (Courtesy of Air Mobility Command News Service)