Only 28 days. That’s how long it took to put 3 ½-year-old Cole Murphy’s leukemia in remission. But it took nearly four years of treatment to make sure it stayed there.
Along the road, he endured chemo, spinal taps, bone marrow tests, home injections and innumerable labs and tests. His medical care team at Children’s of Alabama became like family, not just to Cole but to his parents and siblings as well.
He took his last chemo pill on May 21, 2022, and today he’s playing tackle football and living “a normal life” with his family.
It all started with persistent fevers his parents attributed to a normal 3-year-old’s interactions with other children at pre-school and church. Then, a rash appeared, which is also not uncommon for a youngster on antibiotics. But when he fell out of bed during the night and couldn’t walk the next morning, his mother called the pediatrician.
“The nurse said, ‘You need to get him to Children’s right now,’” said Madison Murphy, Cole’s mother. The nurse told her, “Do not argue with me. Take him immediately.”
Before the day was out, he was diagnosed with leukemia.
“They told us he would be in remission by 28 days,” Madison said. “But they also said it would be a three-year process, so buckle up. He did get to remission within 28 days, and the rest was maintaining it.”
The treatment plan varied throughout the process.
“They gave us a roadmap, and it varied treatment by treatment, so each month or couple of months was different. Some days, he got multiple chemo drugs in a day by IV. He got platelets and blood transfusions if his platelets or blood were low. He got spinal taps, and they injected chemo into his spine to make sure cancer cells weren’t hiding there. And every day, he took chemo pills. There was even a point when we had to give him injections in his thighs at home, every day for two weeks,” she said.
She is grateful for the doctors and nurses who saw them through the journey.
“We are so, so lucky to live close to the hospital,” she said.
“They have a nurse’s hotline, and if he had a fever at 4:00 a.m., they would call me back in 10 minutes and tell me whether to go to the hospital or not. All the nurses were just fantastic, and I can’t say enough good things about Dr. [Ana] Xavier.”
Xavier, a hematologist and oncologist at Children’s, once asked for a sewing kit and reattached the tail to Cole’s stuffed monkey during their clinic.
“She would play cards and color with him,” Madison said.
“Cole is a beautiful, strong, resilient, happy boy who tackled leukemia with the same determination he plays his so many beloved sports,” Xavier said. “He is a joy, a precious kid I care very much for. Like Cole, his parents and siblings are an inspiration to all of us. As a doctor, I am very thankful for their trust in my care and for allowing me to be part of such a difficult journey.”
Madison was particularly grateful for the child life specialists, who took the time to explain to Cole’s older brother what was going on and what to expect.
“They were just amazing. Whether your child ever needs counseling or toys, the child life specialists will come into the room and provide whatever is needed.”
Cole has been revisiting the clinic every month since he completed chemo and will soon move to visits every two months.
“We’ll gradually taper off until it’s once a year,” Madison said. “That’s crazy to me because I love it there, and it gives me so much comfort. Going to clinic gives me peace of mind that he is still in remission and still doing OK. If he runs a fever or feels bad, I know we’ll go to clinic soon. If we ever do have a concern, they’ll do tests and scans or whatever we need for peace of mind. They are so much like family.”