For Murray, leukemia is just another battle | NevadaAppeal.com

For Murray, leukemia is just another battle

JIM SCRIPPS

In his Nevada Appeal column each week, Dick Murray used to stir up a good amount of controversy, railing against everybody from teacher’s unions to city planners.

During those years between 1991 and 1995, he made a number of ideological enemies, but now Murray is battling leukemia, a more formidable opponent than bloated budgets and left-wing politics.

At 67 years old, Murray, a retired aeronautics administrator, is terminally ill with a common form of this cancerous strain. Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia, or CML, has dragged him to the brink of death only to be rebuffed by his strong will and an experimental drug that he says has extended his life.

“The prognosis for my type of leukemia is three to five years,” he said. “I was diagnosed three days before my 63rd birthday. I’m 67 now, so I’m pushing the bow wave.”

CML is a terminal version of leukemia that comprises about 15 percent of all reported cases. About 3 percent of total cancer cases are classified as leukemia.

There are three progressions to CML. The chronic phase is denoted by a measured change in white blood cell development, followed by the accelerated phases where the abnormal white cells rapidly reproduce, and finally the blast crisis phase, where the immune system is severely weakened by a massive accumulation of abnormal white cells.

Murray entered blast phase several months ago and his life expectancy dropped to about 3 months.

Then, with the help of a friend who is suffering the same disease, he became what he describes as a guinea pig, testing a new drug at the University of California-Los Angeles that has had amazing results for CML patients.

“My oncologist didn’t expect me to make it past Thanksgiving,” he said. “Then I started on the treatment. It’s not a cure, but it certainly did put off the inevitable. I’m living testimony to that.”

At one point during blast phase, Murray’s white blood cell count measured between 70,000 and 80,000. A normal count is usually close to 5,000. Now, with several months of the drug therapy, his blood cell count is below the normal range – good news for Murray.

“The theory is that you reduce the white blood cell count while your body battles the abnormal cells,” he said. “Then, when your body is back in shape, you try to regulate your white blood cell count.”

Murray said the drug is a “hunter,” searching your blood stream for a specific enzyme given off by CML cells. In this way the treatment differs from traditional methods.

Radiation and chemotherapy bombard the blood, killing off the good cells with the bad in the hope of eliminating the bad. The step after these extreme measures is to try to rebuild the damaged blood system.

Unlike traditional radiation and chemotherapy, Murray’s drug isn’t as hard on the body.

“I get a little nausea now and then,” he said. “But the side effects are mild. The biggest thing is a loss of appetite. I’ve lost a lot of weight.”

Murray says his cancer battle has just begun and he is determined to win. Already, his rehabilitation has achieved an amazing turn around, putting him back into the chronic phase of CML.

After his temporary hiatus from rabble-rousing in Carson City, Murray said he will soon be back at it, taking on city government and groups, making some people mad, but mostly doing what he loves.

He expects nothing less than to conquer this foe.

“I’m not near my death,” he jokes. “I’m not crawling in a hole and pulling down the lid. I tell my doctors I’m just too busy to die now.”