Leo Murphy's Story

A multidisciplinary team saves Leo Murphy from advanced colon cancer.

Leo MurphyLeo Murphy didn’t have much time to think after having his colonoscopy.

“I was sent right from my colonoscopy to my primary care doctor’s office,” says Leo. “He started making immediate arrangements with a surgeon.”

It was January of 2006. Leo had been putting off having a colonoscopy for several years. His job with SWBR Architects—and life in general—kept him extremely busy. Plus he felt healthy.

On the day when he finally had his colonoscopy, his life took a severe and immediate turn. The test revealed that Leo had colon cancer—and that it was well advanced.
“When something like this happens, you kind of go into shock,” says Leo. “It becomes a a blur. It’s a little like being in the army. No one wants to be there, but you just get it done.”

His primary care doctor, Dr. Gregory Riley, provided firm guidance about what Leo’s next step should be.

“My doctor insisted that Luke Schoeniger be my surgeon,” Leo recalls.

Dr. Luke Schoeniger is Associate Professor of Surgery and Oncology at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Trained at NYU and Johns Hopkins, Dr. Schoeniger has been part of the faculty of URMC since 1996.

When Leo went to meet Dr. Schoeniger, he learned that his case would be handled by a multidisciplinary team that would include radiation oncologist Alan Katz and medical oncologist Alok Khorana.

“It was very organized,” says Leo. “You knew you had a group of people who were not just talking to each other on the phone. They were meeting about my specific situation, how they were going to deal with Leo Murphy.”

Leo’s treatment started with radiation to shrink his tumor. The treatment was successful, shrinking his tumor by approximately 50% over the course of three months. Leo, who describes himself as “work-oriented,” arranged to have his radiation treatments early in the morning so he could work the rest of the day.

A month after his radiation treatments were completed, Leo was in surgery to have the rest of the tumor removed. After the surgery, Dr. Schoeniger told Leo his surgery was even more successful than he had hoped. Still, Leo was not totally “cancer-free”.

“There was one lymph node way out there that was a bit of a concern,” says Leo. “But my team told me not to worry about it. That’s why they had planned chemo from the start. The whole schedule was like clockwork, and that gave me a lot of confidence.”

Following surgery, Leo took another month off to recover. Then in June of 2006, he started three months of chemotherapy.

Every other week, Leo would come to the Wilmot Cancer Center to receive his chemotherapy treatment. While the medications were being delivered to his system, he was able to witness an interesting sight: The new Wilmot Cancer Center building was being erected right next door. And Leo was the construction administrator on the project.

“I worked with the architects who designed the Wilmot Cancer Center,” says Leo. “I was responsible for assisting in the coordination, the scheduling and the overall quality of the project. So from the window of the treatment room, I could watch what was going on! I thought it was pretty ironic that I was going through chemo at the very same place where I was involved in the construction of a new state-of-the-art cancer center.”

Leo feels a particular pride in having had a part in constructing the new Wilmot Cancer Center building.

“I would go there again in an instant,” he says. “I had gotten a second opinion from Sloan Kettering, but I chose Wilmot. They have great people and a caring organization.”

“I believe my doctors, their assistants and their nursing staff are simply the best in their fields,” says Leo. “I think Dr. Shoeniger is the best surgeon around. Dr. Khorana teaches around the world, and Dr. Katz is just a super guy. I couldn’t have had a better team.”

Leo is quick to mention another critical part of his team: “My wife, Judy, was terrific. She told me, ‘We’ve made it through a lot of things, and we’ll get through this.’ She was very steady. She just never wavered.”

In January of 2011, a CT scan revealed no signs of cancer in Leo’s body. A few months later, Leo reached his five-year anniversary of being cancer-free.

Those five years gave Leo time to enjoy some of the nicest experiences of his life: the births of four of his grandchildren.