We lost our bright light, Arbor, to Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia— often ignorantly referred to as ‘the good cancer’ — just four months ago. She was only 14 years old. She responded well through treatment, achieving remission quickly but relapsed twice — once after a bone marrow transplant which was devastatingly heartbreaking on so many levels.
Surprisingly, less than 5% of federal funding is allocated to childhood cancer research which seems backwards. Since childhood cancer is NOT a result of environmental factors, one would think that would be the best focus for cancer research — figure out what happens in our cells within our bodies, not creating nuclear bombs that often kill the patients along the way. Immunotherapy and other combination therapies are promising — and we can only hope they help provide the elusive cures our children and beloved family and friends deserve.
Sadly for us, it feels as though Arbor is simply a statistic — we ‘won’ the wrong lottery. But she was so much more. Here is her story:
When something struck you as funny, Arbor Murphy was the first one you wanted to tell about it. She laughed easily and often, and although she was beautiful and artistic and kind, her exuberance and humor were the things that defined her.
Arbor was wired to find delight in the world. She was deeply curious about other people and cultures, actively interested in what they thought and how they felt. Her neurons sparked at anything clever, creative, offbeat or original. She was tickled by the silly and the absurd. She had a natural affinity for quirky characters — even as a very small child, she favored the destructive, impetuous and big-hearted Stitch over the blander heroes and princesses. As she grew, she became fascinated with the rich imaginative worlds of Hiyao Miyazaki, places where shape shifting, mysticism and soul-searching journeys are suffused with beauty, magic and love.
She was about to embark on a shape-shifting journey of her own. When she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 10, the disease and its treatment changed her physically. She lost her hair, but not her sense of humor about it. “Well, a bald girl is pretty funny,” she reassured her younger brother Fletcher, when he overheard some classmates whispering about it.
The hair wouldn’t be the worst of it. As her battle with cancer raged on, she earned the scars of a true warrior. But through it all, her heart remained soft. Spending her last Halloween in the hospital, Arbor knew she could brighten the day for the littler patients. She slipped on a wig and a costume and got into character, walking the halls as Elsa, the beloved big sister from Frozen.
That’s who Arbor was. She was kind when she didn’t have to be. She was grateful when it seemed impossible to be. She was brave without trying to be. And she was upbeat even after four punishing years of fighting for her life.
Arbor always believed she would beat leukemia — and she did, twice. She felt certain the disease was finally behind her when she rallied for her Make-A-Wish trip to Japan, a trip that would allow her to experience all the places she had imagined from her hospital bed. She felt instantly at home in Japan and made the most of her time there, taking in the Pokemon Center, Tokyo Disneyland, the country’s beautiful landscapes and shrines, and of course her beloved Miyazaki’s museum. That special trip felt like the beginning of a new life for Arbor, a life after cancer. But sadly, by the time she returned home, exhilarated but exhausted, her body had relapsed.
She had hopes of attending Comic-Con, of spending some time with “her people,” those creative storytellers, inventors and dreamers who inspired her. She even got the costume she planned to wear there. But the disease had other ideas. And ultimately, the place she really wanted to go was home, to her own room, her family and her cats.
She spent her last night surrounded by her family, swapping jokes and trading favorite movie lines. In the morning she was alert and talkative, and by the afternoon she had slipped away. Arbor died the way she did everything — simply, without a fuss, full of dreams and wrapped in love.
Arbor didn’t have enough time on earth to experience much of life; the world owed her so much more. But somehow she was able in her short span to understand that a happy life isn’t one that avoids suffering; it’s one that embraces joy.
Yes, we owe her and our children so much more! Thank you so very much for making this the priority it should be — one that may finally bridge party lines! Let’s reach that moon — tell me what we can do today and tomorrow to help.