Amber and Dustin Murphy spend time with daughter Kenlie, 7, and son Branson, 3, at Hospice of the Valley in Gilbert, Ariz., on Dec. 17, 2012. Dustin is dying from stage 4 colon cancer.(Photo: Michael Chow, The Arizona Republic)
Dustin Murphy is 33 years old and in the final stages of a losing battle with colon cancer.
the fog of sedation, pain, and anxiety over his condition, Dustin has
been more concerned about his wife of 11 years and their two young
children than his own plight.
He now has little energy to speak
and can barely move from his bed. But earlier this year, he found the
strength to make one last noble gesture as a father and husband to take
care of the family that means everything to him, whose comfort and
happiness have been his life's work.
His wife, Amber, says he is the "best provider. He's always asking how he can help me even though he can't get out of bed."
had felt pain in his stomach for years, well before his diagnosis. He
finally saw a doctor, who found a hardening in his bowel but told him,
"You're 30. It's probably food poisoning," Amber recalled.
months passed and Dustin's condition worsened. A second opinion found
that it was cancer, the same disease that had claimed Dustin's father
when Dustin was in high school.
He was in surgery within a week of the diagnosis, but the cancer wasn't done with him.
"It came back raging," Amber said. "We've been fighting that ever since."
family has struggled financially throughout the ordeal. Dustin
continued to work as an IT manager until he went on long-term disability
a little more than a year ago.
COBRA, or the Consolidated Omnibus
Budget Reconciliation Act, allowed the Murphys to pay out of pocket to
continue health insurance with Dustin's employer. But when their COBRA
coverage ended, the Murphys had to purchase other insurance for Dustin,
which Amber said is costly and leaves her and their children -- Kenlie,
7, and Branson, 3 -- uninsured.
Amber, a self-described
stay-at-home mom even before her babies were born, recently took a job
in loan processing that allows her to work off-site. They've mostly
lived off Social Security payments, and their immediate family has
helped to pay mounting medical bills.
And then, amid all the
despondency, they received a gift that would ease their financial
burdens, thanks to Dustin's quiet efforts to help his family a few
The family will have at least one less bill in
2013, after the Gradient Gives Back Foundation, a charitable arm of
Gradient Financial Group, awarded the Murphys of San Tan Valley a full
year of mortgage or lease payments.
Unbeknownst to Amber, Dustin
applied for the award in April. He outlined the family's plight in a
section of the application titled "My Story."
"The last year has
turned our entire life upside down," he began. "In October 2010, I was
diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer. I am 32 years old with a growing
family and just finally made a name for myself in my career. I have had
to undergo months of chemotherapy treatment, as well as the costs
associated with it. My family has stepped up and helped with some of the
financial portion, but the money is slowly dwindling. I have worked
extremely hard to get where I am in life. I spent seven years working
and going to school to finally gain my Master's Degree, only to have to
put that life on hold and attempt to save my life. I've always been the
one to give. It's been very humbling to have this experience where I
have to receive as well. We've got a beautiful family that deserves all
the happiness I can provide. Unfortunately, I have had to go on
disability and have a hard time providing as I used to be able to."
marketing director Gretchen Beatty said the foundation's board was
touched by the strength and determination the Murphys have shown in the
face of difficulty. Each year, the foundation helps several families
facing "dire circumstances in both their personal and financial lives,"
Beatty said. More than 500 applications were submitted this year.
Murphy family continue to battle the effects of cancer that has
afflicted Mr. Murphy at such a young age and that has challenged the
entire family," Beatty said. "Mr. Murphy is currently in a hospice
facility, and Mrs. Murphy fights to maintain the home, care for their
two children, and visit Mr. Murphy on a daily basis. This is a very
deserving family, and we know they can use the help."
delivering word to the Murphys on Dec. 10, one of Gradient's local
partners, Integrity Financial Group South West, enlisted the help of the
San Tan Valley Chamber of Commerce. Within hours, chamber President
Tisha Castillo said, about a dozen local businesses came forward with
hundreds of dollars in gift certificates for food and services. There
were offers to interview Amber for a job and watch the kids free of
charge whenever she needed a break, Castillo said.
"We want to help get her back into the community and make sure she's OK," Castillo added.
For now, Amber tries to spend as much time as she can at Dustin's side.
this week, at Lund Family Hospice Home in Gilbert, Amber crawled into
Dustin's bed and snuggled close to him, her face inches from his. The
children played noisily on the outdoor patio as the couple gazed at a
small Christmas tree in the corner that Amber had decorated with family
photos of happier, healthier times.
The Murphys say they're awed
by the help they've received from Gradient and the community. They
weren't expecting it, and Dustin said the relief has allowed them to
spend more time together.
"Christmas is all about family
relationships. Honestly, I may not be able to enjoy my family much
longer," he whispered, Amber wiping away the tears rolling down his
cheeks. "I want to enjoy them as much as I can."
Lindsey Collom, The Arizona Republic