For Bill Murin, it started with a nagging head cold that refused to clear up. So he dutifully made an appointment with his local Ear Nose & Throat specialist, who decided a CT scan was in order.
That’s when they discovered it: the tumor. Hypopharyngeal cancer. Stage 4, to be exact.
Bill’s reaction? “I felt complete loss of control (of my life) … then I fainted in the doctor’s office,” he says.
Just 45 at the time, Bill loved fishing, boating, and spending time with his wife and friends, among other things. The news, however, woke him up. “I discovered I’m not bullet-proof,” he shares. “I had to get my life in order.”
That’s when he turned to The James. His oncology care team included internationally recognized cancer experts and specialists, including Surgical Oncologist Matthew Old, MD, Radiation Oncologist Dukagjin Blakaj, MD, and Medical Oncologist Robert Rupert, MD – along with dozens of exceptionally trained oncology nurses, nurse practitioners, social workers and more.
“I was very blessed to have them in my corner,” Bill says. “It made me want to fight more. To win.”
After undergoing surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, Bill still had work to do, including learning to talk again. Treatments had initially rendered him unable to speak, so while he communicated by writing everything down, he also began the long, often frustrating process of learning to form words all over again. Though difficult, he credits a James Speech Pathologist – whom he calls his savior – for finally helping him make a breakthrough. “She figured out what I needed,” he explains, “and within seconds I was talking. I haven’t shut up since.”
Bill also credits a rock-solid support system, spearheaded by his wife, Tona, with his healing process. “You can’t tackle this alone,” he explains. “I was the one with cancer, but it affects everyone around you, so you have to let them in. My wife meant everything to me as I went through this, and I know I wouldn’t be here without her – the nights she spent awake making sure I was still breathing, the logistics of my care, learning everything I needed before they would release me from the hospital. Without her, I have no clue how I would have made it through.”
According to Bill, patients have a life before diagnosis and a different one after – the key, he says, is what each person decides to make of it. “I would be doing my whole care team and everyone who has gone through this with me an injustice if I did not live my life to the fullest now, taking this second chance and grabbing on with both hands.”
So when people said he couldn’t or shouldn’t do certain things, Bill made a goal to do them. “I’m sure I aggravated a few of my doctors. I know I aggravated Tona,” he jokes.
Now when he returns to The James for his follow-up check-ups, he says it almost feels like coming home.
“The James saved my life,” Bill shares. “If I would have been anywhere else, I truly believe I would not be here today.” And as one of his care team experts told him, “It’s time to get back to living. I live my life now by that rallying call.”