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Paynesville Press - Jan. 29, 2003

Mother fights cancer

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

Tricia Murtley is a firm believer that prayer can heal. A devoted Catholic, she is leaning on her faith and the power of prayer to help her win her battle with cancer.

Tricia, a 33-year-old mother of three, was recently diagnosed with advanced colon cancer. Even as she deals with the uncertainty of her future, she has come to discover her own strength as well as some wonderful people.

Murtley family "This community is amazing," she said of the friends and neighbors, some that she didn't even know, who have rallied around her since her diagnosis.

The Murtleys have lived in Paynesville Township since 1998. Tricia is a speech clinician for the New London-Spicer School District and her husband, Dave, works in Cold Spring. Tricia and Dave have participated in couple's league golf and Dave played fantasy football, but since they haven't lived here a long time and didn't work in the community, Tricia felt they hadn't made a firm connection with their neighbors.

A prayer service and benefit are planned next week to support Tricia Murtley, who has colon cancer, pictured with her husband Dave, sons Mitchell and twins Cymon and Isaac.

As soon as word got out about her illness, though, community members stepped in to help. Neighbors and members of the community and the congregation of St. Louis Catholic Church have taken the family into their care.

Tricia's friends and family, along with others from the community have planned a prayer service, a benefit supper, and a silent auction that will be held at St. Louis Catholic Church on Sunday, Feb. 2. The prayer service begins at 3:30 p.m., and the supper and silent auction are from 4-7 p.m. A freewill offering will be taken.

Besides organizing the prayer service and benefit, community members have helped Tricia throughout her illness, from keeping her spirits up while she was in the hospital by sending cards and flowers to helping out with the day-to-day chores she can no longer handle such as housework and shopping.

In fact, friends deliver meals to the family three days a week so Tricia can save her limited energy for her children, 20-month-old twins Cymon and Isaac and five-year-old Mitchell.

"This would never happen if I still lived in St. Cloud," she said. Murtley's ordeal began last year. Looking back, she can't pinpoint exactly when she became ill, but there had been signs for a long time, she said. She was tired all of the time, and she had trouble just pushing her twins in their stroller.

Her cancer was ultimately discovered last November when she went to the emergency room for what doctors thought was a case of appendicitis. During surgery to remove her appendix, doctors discovered a tumor on her colon (the tumor had wrapped itself around her appendix causing the symptoms of appendicitis) and found that the cancer had already spread to her liver and her stomach wall. At that time, surgeons removed one-third of her colon and the fat pad that lined her abdomen.

"The surgery was supposed to take an hour or so. When I woke up four hours later, I knew something was wrong because it took so long," she said. "I knew it was really bad when Dave wouldn't talk to me about it after the surgery. He told me to wait for the doctor."

Later, cancer was also found in her lungs.

Colon cancer is uncommon in a person as young as Tricia. Typically it's found in people over 50, according to the American Cancer Society, but Tricia has suffered from ulcerative colitis since she was a child, a condition that increases the risk of developing colon cancer.

Now, Tricia receives two rounds of chemotherapy every two weeks, in an effort to kill the cancer cells in her body. Her first treatment began the day after Christmas.

She seems to be tolerating the treatments well, and she said she probably won't lose her hair on the combination of drugs she is taking, a fact that gave her some relief, but because she has only had a few treatments, she is unsure if she will suffer from other common side effects such as anemia and mouth sores.

After each treatment, though, Tricia is exhausted and sleeps through the next couple of days. Dave assumes responsibility for their home and children during those times.

Whether the chemotherapy is working, Tricia doesn't know yet. Doctors told her there is no way to tell until after she has been through three or four treatments. She should find out soon if it's working.

Tricia no longer has the energy to do her job so she had to take a leave of absence and she has no idea when, if ever, she will be able go back to work. And even though the family has lost one wage earner, the bills, including medical bills, still come every month like clockwork.

That's where Tricia's friends and the community enter the picture.

Benefit supper & silent auction Tricia, a member of St. Louis Catholic Church, believes God is her biggest ally in her struggle, so when her parents suggested a prayer service, she thought it was a wonderful idea. Her friends, knowing the financial burden the family is under, decided to hold a benefit spaghetti dinner and silent auction after the prayer service.

Tricia doesn't know her prognosis. She looked up colorectal cancer on the Internet one time and didn't like what she was reading, because the information was very negative, so she quit. She said to her doctor that she didn't want to be told how long she has to live.

Tricia feels she needs to remain positive to fight her disease, and she knows everybody responds differently to the treatments. She said she has spoken to some people who have lived for years with the same type of cancer she has.

Because she had ulcerative colitis, Tricia had a colonoscopy every three years, her last just before she became pregnant with her twins. But even the regular exams weren't enough to catch the disease in its early stages.

Now, along with medical treatment, Tricia is depending on her faith and her community, which has already done so much for the family, to make her strong.

"I don't know how to thank everyone in the community that has shown their support," said Tricia. "We are so blessed and so thankful to have such a community."

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