Right now, it’s like Mark Murdoch never had cancer.
In late 2018, however, he had some burning indigestion that would not go away. One of his daughters, Andrea Phipps, worked as a gastroenterology physician assistant, and recommended a specialist to her father. After meeting with that doctor for what he thought might be an ulcer, Mark was diagnosed with duodenal cancer, a rare type of cancer of the small intestine or bowel.
He and his wife, Charlene, made an appointment at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, where they met with Steven Hochwald, MD, MBA, FACS, Chief of Gastrointestinal/Endocrine Surgery, and began to map out his cancer journey.
“Charlene’s family’s had some history here and they had great care,” Mark said. “I’ve been aware of Roswell Park all my life, living in Buffalo and knowing it’s a great cancer institute.” Together with Dr. Hochwald’s team and a team led by Christos Fountzilas, MD, FACP, they started on a course of chemotherapy followed by surgery.
A Family Fight Against Cancer
During the week Mark spent at Roswell Park after his surgery, he had plenty of visitors: Charlene spent every night there and their daughters, Andrea and Michelee Bochniarz, brought their four children to visit their “Papa.”
“Everybody was so nice,” Charlene recalls. She figured she wouldn’t sleep much at home, wondering how Mark was doing, so she slept in his room. She also started a journal and would take notes throughout the day and with every appointment, including keeping track of his vital signs. Charlene and Mark even started to joke with the nurses on 7 West that Charlene was doing their job, monitoring his health and providing prompt answers to doctors’ questions.
In 2019, his doctors found cancer in a lymph node, which Mark elected to have removed with a second surgery instead of staying on chemotherapy for the rest of his life.
“Since then, I’ve had two clean CT scans and hopefully that’ll continue,” Mark says.
Riding as a Team
Like so many other families, Mark’s fight with cancer strengthened his family’s bonds. It’s also inspired them to fundraise together, participating in the Ride for Roswell each of the past three years.
“His first surgery was in April and each time he went in, he said ‘I’m doing The Ride,’” Andrea recalls. “We signed up while waiting during his seven-hour surgery and created our Ride for Roswell team, MVM Strong, which stands for Mark Vincent Murdoch. We sat in the waiting room filling out forms and sending letters.”
There was a question of how far they’d go the first year, considering Mark still had some drainage tubes from his first surgery in place. They still managed to ride together as a family for 20 miles their first year.
“That was the interesting part,” Michelee says. “Dad would go to chemo, go in for several hours of treatment and he was sent home with a fanny pack of continuous treatment for several days. He’d be outside doing all kinds of yard work right away and you’d never know he came from the hospital.”
Participating in the Ride was a milestone goal for Mark. “I wanted to make sure I did that,” he says. “It was motivational to get more exercise and get stronger every day. Because of my complications, it wasn’t until closer to the Ride that I was feeling good enough to do that kind of activity. It was motivational, certainly.”
They rode a socially-distant 35 miles as a family for this year’s Summer of the Ride, and hope to have a larger group together for next summer’s Ride. In the three years the Murdoch family has participated, they’ve raised more than $30,000. “I want to keep doing this as long as I can,” Mark says.
Taking Trips and Sharing Memories
They also all took a vacation together last year, something they now say is a shared memory for which they’re incredibly grateful.
“Andrea’s daughter said she wanted to go to Hawaii because she wanted to meet Moana,” says Michelee, referring to a popular Disney character. “We thought, can we do that with two 3-year-olds and two 5-year-olds? Last November, we took a 10-day trip. Those were great memories and it was a dream come true, knowing where we had been to where we are now.”
Mark and Charlene also bought a motorhome and took a two-month cross-country trip between his procedures. It was something they always had wanted to do, and despite thinking it was “a crazy idea,” Charlene is grateful now that they did. “It was wonderful!”
Mark continues to have good news from his doctors and the family continues to stop by and see the nurses on 7 West when they come in.
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Part of the Family
But the family’s time at Roswell Park has increased overall: Andrea now works with Dr. Hochwald as a physician assistant on the Surgical Oncology team.
“I always thought of myself as being an advocate for patients. Here I can continue to be a patient advocate because I know what it’s like to be in the room with a family member when you’re confused and concerned,” she says.
“It really is a strange turn of events,” Charlene says. “Even our timing of moving back from Florida – we came back in 2015. If this had happened when we were in Florida, it would’ve been harder because we wouldn’t have been able to go to Roswell and we wouldn’t have been there with the kids. Things work out as they’re meant to be.”
Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.