SALEM, N.H. — Corrine Murphy and her 8-year-old daughter are both, quite literally, one in a million. They often wish they weren’t.
Later this month they’ll have a special place in a New Hampshire holiday parade, an effort by locals who know of their overwhelming health issues to provide some light during relentless dark times.
Murphy, a Salem, New Hampshire, resident and former Londonderry teacher, has fought hard for a diagnosis and harder for her life.
“It’s a rare, soft tissue cancer,” she explained this week after chemotherapy — her 12th round. “It can appear anywhere. Mine was on my ankle. It’s metastasized by now to my lungs.”
The synovial sarcoma had eight years to spread before doctors could pinpoint it, Murphy said.
Symptoms and treatment came to a head in 2020, just before the holidays.
Despite radiation on her skull and jaw, a knee replacement, chemotherapy and a bout of COVID-19, Murphy made it home two days before Christmas.
“I kept fighting for it,” she said. “To get home to my girl.”
When she talks about miracles, though, Maya comes to mind first.
Her only child has far exceeded doctors’ expectations after they discovered a duplicate of chromosome No. 15. Born three months premature, Maya has been “fighting since day one,” her mom says.
“We noticed delays when she was about 18 months,” Murphy explained. “It’s hard to decipher what’s a preemie delay and what could be something else.”
Genetic testing at Boston Children’s Hospital provided the answer: It was isodicentric chromosome 15 syndrome, or dup15q as it’s more commonly referred.
For Maya it has meant autism, a seizure disorder, sensory issues and more.
“I had therapists say she’d never walk or talk,” Murphy recalls. “Today, she’s reading almost on grade level, she’s riding a bike with training wheels. She just swam independently for the first time and played soccer this fall.”
The hard truth, Corrine knows, is that there’s no timeline for their future together.
“I’m terminal, but I’m fighting the fight,” she says. “The cancer is systematic at this point. And because it’s a rare cancer there’s no data. The prognosis is really about the individual.”
A scan every two months provides a glimpse into what the next two could hold. Every day in between, she says, is inspired by Maya.
“She’s amazing, despite everything she’s faced with,” Murphy said. “Our community is so amazing, too. Family, friends, people in Salem and Londonderry. There really are no words for it.”
Taking a few days to recuperate from each string of treatments, Murphy uses newfound energy to advocate for Maya and others like her.
“I want to bring awareness,” she said, mentioning the Dup15q Alliance. “We never even knew this existed nine years ago, and it’s our world now.”
She looks forward to a day of joy with her girl at the upcoming parade. Linehan Limousine has donated a luxury ride for mother and daughter.
“I asked the organizers when they came to me with this idea if they were sure, if there was anyone else instead of us that they wanted to pick,” she said.
Their answer, of course, was that there was no one else. They’re both one in a million.