George and Frances Murphy Informally celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. They had to cancel the planned celebration due to his diagnosis, which was rendered two days earlier.
George Murphy is a "hard-working Jersey man." Born in Orange,
New Jersey and raised in Newark, he has held a job since he was a young
boy. When he was twelve years old, he rode a milk truck and delivered
milk, eggs and cheese to his neighbors. With a tap on his bedroom window,
the milkman would wake George up at two o'clock in the morning. Before
starting their deliveries, they would drive to the local diner and order
a cup of coffee and an egg sandwich on a hard roll. Sometimes, just to
change it up a bit, the boy would have a toasted muffin with butter. George's
mouth still waters when he remembers these breakfasts of 66 years ago.
George also hauled ice to homes, restaurants and taverns. Typical blocks
of ice would cost 10, 15, 20 or 25 cents. One of his favorite jobs was
setting pins at a bowling alley.
From the time he was a child, George wanted to go to sea. Just after he
turned 17 years old and a year short of high school graduation, he eagerly
applied to the United States Navy. He unexpectedly failed the physical
due to a punctured ear drum. Undaunted and unconcerned with earning a
high school degree, he joined the Merchant Marines in November, 1944 and
shipped out. He worked as an oiler, and fireman water tender.
For the next five years, George sailed aboard several Liberty ships, docking
at shipyards up and down the eastern seaboard. He left the Merchant Marines
in 1950, and then was drafted into the United States Army. George served
for two years and was stationed in Germany, attaining the rank of corporal.
After his honorable discharge in 1952, he returned home to Newark, New
Jersey and began working as a painter.
George's 1951 DIVCO Milk Truck before the restoration (2000)
George also returned to Frances, whom he had known since they were both
17 years old. They were married on November 8, 1952. In fairly short order
they had a son and a daughter. He kept working hard, providing for his
family. Twenty-six years later, during the "stagflation" of
the late 1970s, painting and construction work was growing increasingly
scarce, and he went back to sea, as an oiler, fireman and water tender
for Exxon. He sailed "25s" (so called because the ships weighed
25 tons), hauling oil from ports all over the country.
Finally, in 1995, after six decades of work, George "retired"
-- which in his case meant working in his own shop, in his own home (in
Gulf Breeze, Florida), on his time and his agenda. He spent hour upon
hour in his impeccably clean and organized three-car garage. He has every
tool imaginable, neatly hung or placed in its own drawer or cabinet.
The Murphy home mirrors the garage: very clean, a place for every thing
and everything in its place. George credits Frances, who also donates
her time as a volunteer hospice caregiver for the sick and elderly.
George has been restoring antique automobiles and pickup trucks for over
30 years. His restorations of a 1968 Mercury Cougar and 1970 Ford van
have won awards at competitions. His most recent restoration was to a
1951 Detroit Industrial Vehicle Company (DIVCO) milk truck, the same type
of truck he spent long, cold mornings riding as a young boy in New Jersey.
It took two years for George to complete the restoration, and it was worth
it. He won several awards for this work.
The DIVCO Milk truck, two years later.
Of note, the number under the logo was George's telephone number as
a boy. Also, the number 7 on the front panel is in honor of George's
hero, the great Mickey Mantle.
In September, 2002, George had just completed the DIVCO restoration and
was cementing plans for an elaborate celebration of the 50th anniversary
of his marriage to Frances when he developed a dry cough and fatigue.
He met with his family physician, who ordered several tests, including
a chest film. The chest film revealed the presence of fluid in the right
thoracic cavity. George's doctor felt he was likely suffering from
pneumonia and prescribed antibiotics. After 10 days, his symptoms did
not improve, and George returned to his physician.
A second set of chest films showed no significant changes, and George was
referred to a pulmonologist, who recommended a CT scan, thoracentesis
On October 19, George underwent a bronchoscopy at Gulf Breeze Hospital.
Two days later, a thoracentesis was performed. He was hospitalized for
five days. The morphology of the tissue removed during the bronchoscopy
was highly suspicious for biphasic mesothelioma. George's pulmonologist
discussed the working diagnosis with the Murphys and suggested they meet
with doctors who were better qualified to treat mesothelioma at the University
of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).
The Murphys took their doctor's advice and traveled to Birmingham for
further tests and consultation. On November 6, George underwent a thorascopic
biopsy, a PET scan and another CT scan. Immunohistochemical staining of
the biopsied tissue confirmed the diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma,
biphasic type. Pathological workup also revealed that there was not any
lymph node involvement. However, even though George was in excellent shape,
the doctors at UAB could not recommend surgery because of his age. Once
post-surgical quality of life issues were discussed, George left UAB convinced
that he did not wish to pursue that treatment path.
George Murphy aboard his
restored 1951 DIVCO Milk Truck - 2002
Devastated, the Murphys traveled home to Gulf Breeze. They canceled their
50th wedding anniversary party that was scheduled for that weekend and
began to research other treatment options. They learned of
Alimta and presented information regarding the Eli Lily "compassionate use"
program to George's local oncologist, Dr. Thomas Fitzgerald of Gulf
Breeze. Dr. Fitzgerald was very helpful in filling out the necessary paperwork
to qualify George for Alimta use on a compassionate basis.
Eli Lilly has already approved George for Alimta. Dr. Fitzgerald will coordinate
the treatments at Baptist Hospital in Pensacola. Mr. Murphy had a shunt
inserted on Thursday, December 19 in preparation for this treatment, which
will begin once Baptist approves the use of Alimta at the hospital.
While he waits to begin chemotherapy with Alimta, George takes a vitamin
B-12 supplement to fight fatigue. He tires very, very easily and has pain
around the biopsy incisions. Right now, his inability to work upsets him
the most: "This is really a kick in the head when you get knocked
off your feet. I'd rather be out in the garage than anywhere else."
Frances is equally upset. When she talks about George's illness, she
noticeably fights back tears. She says, "I've know this man since
I was 17 years old. What am I supposed to do when he is gone?"
We will keep you updated on the fight of this 50-year married couple against
*** POSTED JANUARY 2, 2003 ***
An Update -- 10/03/03
George completed his Alimta treatments. He underwent a CAT scan that showed
that the Alimta had slowed the cancer. He is now being administered Gemzar
and has recently completed his fifth treatment. He has one more Gemzar
treatment left before he undergoes another CAT scan.
George remains extremely short of breath. He has accepted the fact that
the pain in his left side will "always be there." He tries to
stay busy doing yard work, but just walking outside makes him gasp for air.
The only joy he finds these days is watching his favorite professional
football teams, the New York Giants and New York Jets.
Mr. George Murphy passed away on December 5, 2003