John Patrick Murphy

Clinical trials: a patient's view

In 2009 John Patrick Murphy, a 68 year old trial lawyer from Colorado, took a run-of-the-mill fall, which caused him a great deal of pain in his leg. His doctors mistook the pain for sciatica, but when a CT scan later revealed a tumor in a bone in his pelvis, John’s brother - an oncologist - immediately referred him to Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) to have his tumor looked at.

In 2009 John Patrick Murphy, a 68 year old trial lawyer from Colorado, took a run-of-the-mill fall, which caused him a great deal of pain in his leg. His doctors mistook the pain for sciatica, but when a CT scan later revealed a tumour in a bone in his pelvis, John’s brother - an oncologist - immediately referred him to Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) to have his tumour looked at.

John was diagnosed with advanced cancer, and the prognosis was that he would have only four months to live.  

His oncologist ruled out chemotherapy – the only approved treatment available. Fortunately, John’s oncologist knew about a clinical trial, for which he felt John would qualify. In discussing the clinical trial, John’s oncologist explained what would be involved in terms of time, travel and standard of care.  

By providing me with access to a treatment, I felt I was given a lifeline to hope.

John Patrick Murphy

His positive experience with the process has turned him into an advocate for clinical trials participation, but other patients have reservations. These may include financial concerns over travelling for clinical trials and missed time from work, or concerns about not having access to the same standard of care. 

Travelling for clinical trials can be a significant time commitment. For the first five weeks of his participation in the trial, John had to fly weekly from Colorado to MGH and spend two days each week to have his blood counts checked, and for brain scans and MRIs. Later, this was reduced to once a month for the first three years. He is now on an every other month schedule.

Patients may also be concerned that they will have to relinquish some level of care by being part of a study. John says that was never an issue for him, both because of the caliber of the institution running his trial, and also due to the thoroughness of the clinical trials process in testing and monitoring patients. 

John suggests that patients shouldn’t be afraid to share their concerns with their care team, as the support they provide can be very helpful on issues such as financial assistance, lodging, and overall moral support

For John, the opportunity to advance science for other patients like him became a strong motivating factor to continue in clinical research after the first study was complete. John feels strongly that it’s important for all cancer patients to be aware of what clinical trials are available to them, especially if they have run out of treatment options, and that patients get to know an institution’s track record in running trials before they enrol, and then their care team. 

“Entering a clinical trial gave me the link to a great chain of people, new studies, potential new treatment options…and hope,” said John.  “I live life more proudly and fully today with the knowledge that I helped advance science and new treatment options for patients like me.”

A good resource for patients is clinicaltrials.gov, which lists trials that are open and advice on things to consider before making the decision to enrol.

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