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Sunny outlook can overcome obstacles
Survivors stories: A series throughout May celebrating Relay for Life
Chase Murphy, 11, has raised more than $500 for Relay for Life. The fifth-grader is battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Chase Murphy, a fifth-grader at Sardis Elementary School, will be studying for his driver's license test by the time he finishes his chemotheraphy treatments.

Murphy was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, commonly called ALL, on Nov. 7 last year. ALL is a type of cancer that affects bone marrow and white blood cells, which normally fight off infections.

In the past month, Murphy has raised more than $500 for Relay for Life, and will join others in a cancer survivors' walk Friday in Flowery Branch.

The 11-year-old Rascal Flatts fan and aspiring soldier has the type of leukemia most common in children.

Murphy's mother, Tina Harris, said she first took him to the doctor on Nov. 6 after he had been complaining of an aching back and sore bones. She received the devastating news about her youngest child the following morning.

"At first we thought it was growing pains, we really did," Harris said. "The doctor, Dr. Robert Taylor, called me and he said, ‘Tina, you need to come in. We think Chase has leukemia.'

"I felt like a Mack truck had just hit me. I couldn't breathe. I remember that phone call well," she said. "You just don't know anything about it. I knew it was cancer, and I knew it was pretty bad."

Murphy recalled the events of that morning, too.

"My mama picked me up from school, and she looked like she'd been crying," he said. "I just felt worried, scared."

Two days later, Murphy started chemotherapy treatment at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston.

Nurses installed an implantable access system into Murphy's upper chest, where 90 percent of his chemotheraphy is applied. He also receives white blood cells and fresh platelets through the hard, quarter-sized medical appliance resting just under his skin.

In addition to receiving shots at home, Murphy receives regular spinal taps in an effort to prevent infection in his spine.

"I get headaches every day," he said when asked about his condition. "Every morning I wake up and think, ‘When is this going to be over?'"

But Murphy's winning smile shows the cancer and chemotheraphy treatments that often land him in the hospital can't bring him down.

"It's not really that tough," he said. "You just go in there and get (the chemotheraphy treatments) done, no matter how long it takes."

Murphy went into remission just four weeks after he began receiving treatment. He has about 2 1/2 more years of treatment left before doctors say he can beat the cancer.

Harris said she hopes her son will stay in remission for about five years. At that point, he will be considered cured.

Until then, the cancer and treatment is taking a toll on the fifth-grader's body. Harris said the last round of chemotherapy four weeks ago made him very sick, and Murphy stayed in the hospital for a week.

"He doesn't get to do normal contact sports. The chemo wears him out, but he's a child that never complains," Harris said. "He still smiles and cracks up."

Harris said the doctors and nurses at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston have been a godsend.

"It's an absolutely fantastic facility, and a whole lot of people don't realize it's in our backyard," she said.

She said the state-funded PeachCare for Kids health insurance program has helped the family pay for Murphy's monthly prescriptions that total about $1,600 each month.

Murphy also has a support group at Sardis Elementary School. His classmates sent him cards and presents for Christmas, and an anonymous Gainesville businessman donated money to the school for purple rubber bracelets that read ‘Chase the Cure!' The school held a fundraiser for Murphy by selling the bracelets.

"It was really nice of him," Murphy said of the anonymous benefactor. "I felt like they really cared about me."

Harris said she and her son are participating in the upcoming Relay for Life program in an effort to raise more awareness about cancer.

"You never know who it's going to strike, and it's all about the awareness," Harris said. "A lot of people sit there and ask, ‘How can I help?' I encourage anybody who can to participate in Relay for Life or donate blood to go out and do so. Chase has actually had to wait for blood before."

Murphy is even participating in an ALL cure-seeking study now.

"From all these studies and all this research, we learn something," Harris said. "That's why I think the Relay for Life ... is such a good cause.

"I really do pray there is a day when a doctor can look at a mom and say, ‘We have a cure. We can fix this.'"