Archbishop Curley head football coach shares his battle with prostate cancer (VIDEO DOCUMENTARY HERE)
In November of 2014 Archbishop Curley varsity football coach Sean Murphy was on top of the world.
His Friars had just completed the school’s first undefeated season and captured their fifth MIAA B Conference championship. Murphy was named Co-Coach of the Year by Varsity Sports Network and MIAA Coach of the Year by the Baltimore Touchdown Club, among numerous other accolades. Later in the month, however, things took a scary turn for the worse when Murphy, 50, was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“It's always scary when you hear the word cancer,” said Murpy, who is entering his 20th season at Curley. “I was in a bit of shock because you never really believe it's going to happen to you.”
Murphy had been on the lookout for the disease since his mid-thirties. He has a family history of prostate cancer, with the disease claiming the life of his grandfather, Patrick Kennedy, and afflicting his father James Murphy, Sr. and brother Jimmy.
His grandfather was not diagnosed until his late 70’s and battled the disease into his early 80’s, before succumbing. Murphy’s father and brother, however, had successful recoveries, giving him hope that he too would have success with his battle.
“I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in late November of 2014 after having a biopsy done in mid November,” said Murphy. “I was originally encouraged by my general practitioner to see a specialist when my blood work came back with an elevated PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen).”
On the advice of Curley trainer Marty McGinty, Murphy saw Dr. Brad Lerner of Chesapeake Urology and Chief of Urology at Union Memorial Hospital. Because of his family history and elevated PSA, Dr. Lerner recommended a prostate biopsy.
“I called my wife, Lynne first. Lynne is a Professor in the Occupational Therapy program at Towson University. Lynne was a clinical professor prior and spent many years working in the hospital setting and is knowledgeable with medical issues,” said Murphy. “Lynne was very confident and reassuring after looking at the biopsy results. We waited until Christmas break to tell my daughters, since they are both in college and were preparing for their semester exams. I didn't want to make a big deal out of it and I focused on staying positive.”
Murphy’s story is not uncommon.
According to the National Cancer Institute, 1 in 6 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their lifetime and, as of 2012, there were an estimated 2,795,592 men living with prostate cancer in the United States.
“Prostate cancer, like many cancers, has no symptoms unless it has spread to other parts of the body,” said Dr. Sanford Siegel, President and CEO of Chesapeake Urology Associates.
Early detection and treatment is the key to surviving prostate cancer, said Siegel.
“Every man should have a conversation about PSA with his doctor beginning at 40. The recommendation is to have a baseline screening at age 40, with regular screenings between 55 and 70. However, if you have a family history of prostate cancer, you really should start getting screened early.”
Once he got the news, Murphy set a plan for treatment, electing to have robotic surgery performed by Dr. Benjamin Lowentritt, Director of Chesapeake Urology’s Prostate Cancer program.
“I am pretty positive and always see the cup half full,” said Murphy. “I also have a strong faith, therefore, I didn't have any of those tough moments where I was depressed or even worried.
“The only time I was really scared was the morning of the surgery, sitting in the waiting room at the hospital. When I say I was scared, it was probably more of the thought that if something should go wrong on the operating table, that I wouldn't be a part of important future events for my daughters and wife. You just start to think about family and friends, people close to you. It was an emotional time waiting there to be called back for surgery. I sent a lot of texts messages that morning to lots of family and friends telling them how much I appreciated them”.
One group Murphy thought about the most, but did not contact, was his football players and teaching colleagues at Curley.
“I didn't tell our players until after my surgery. I didn't want them to worry about me and wanted them to focus on their academics and extracurricular activities,” said Murphy. “The school administration was great, very supportive and understanding. I didn't tell many of the faculty because I didn't want them to feel uncomfortable not knowing what to say. I just didn't want them to be uncomfortable around me”.
“I was out of school for a month so a lot of people had to take on additional responsibilities in order to cover my classes and help with the college recruiting process for our players. Just having our coaches and faculty members willing to help made my recovery much easier.”
In addition to his wife and daughters, Murphy relied on his brother Jim for support. Jim, who was diagnosed and treated 15 years earlier, provided the coach with an example of hope. Murphy also credited McGinty with being a source of positive and upbeat advice.
Now an advocate for early screenings, Murphy has agreed to let his story be told to encourage other men to be tested early. He proudly lead a team, comprised his football players and other Curley athletes running in the Zero Prostate Cancer Run/Walk September 20th at Towson University, where he was once an All-American wide receiver for the Tigers. The event, hosted by Chesapeake Urology raises funds for prostate cancer research as well as for financial assistance to patients, education and early detection programs.
Murphy’s actions have also earned the admiration of his boss, Curley President Fr. Donald Gryzmski.
“Coach Murphy has been a great coach and shown concern for his players and students far beyond the field. So it doesn’t surprise me that he is open to sharing his battle with prostate cancer, and I commend him for his leadership,” said Fr. Grzymski. “I know this personal testimony will help many far beyond the Curley community become aware of this illness and how to address it.”
The Curley community will also assist Murphy in spreading the word. In addition to their participation in the Zero Prostate Cancer Run/Walk, the school’s Sept. 11th home football game with Loyola Blakefield (7:00 p.m.) has been dedicated to promoting prostate cancer awareness.
“Screening is the key,” stated Murphy. “Don't be afraid and don't put it off. Prostate cancer is very curable if caught early.”
Dr. Siegel concurred completely with that assertion and stressed that the screening process is brief and painless.
“The screening is very simple. The blood test, it is just a quick needle stick like you would get for your cholesterol, and there is a digital rectal exam,” said Dr. Siegel. “People fear that digital rectal exam, but it is literally just a few seconds and the blood test and the rectal examine will save lives.”
As for Murphy, the experience has not been life altering, but rather life affirming.
“I have a very strong faith and just put my situation in God’s hands. I am very grateful for the life that I have and the people around me.
“In all honesty, this entire experience was ten times easier then I ever anticipated. I had robotic surgery which gave me a great result. I experienced very little pain after the surgery and within two days I was able to maneuver around my house really well. My recovery was smooth with really no problems.”
Murphy rebounded so quickly that he resumed his duties as the 2015 head coach of Team Maryland in the Big 33 Classic with Pennsylvania, last June in Hersey, Pa., and now is underway in his 20th season as Curley head coach. His Friars are currently 1-0 and ranked No. 6 in the VSN Football Top 20 as they prepare for Friday’s visit from Loyola.
His family and friends needed Murphy and he did what was right to make sure he is around for many years to come. Screening saves lives.