Pictured: Jo Murray before she was diagnosed with throat cancer
A mother of five whose sexually transmitted infection was found to be fatal cancer researched the signs she missed – and why her year and a half waiting for a diagnosis nearly cost her life.
Jo Murray of The Oaks in southwest Sydney believed she had a simple sore throat in late 2019 until she noticed a lump.
The 46-year-old visited two doctors before being told she had stage three cancer that had spread to her tonsils, tongue and left lymph nodes and was caused by HPV – the human papillomavirus.
HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection that usually has no symptoms and goes away on its own. However, it can become cancerous in about ten percent of cases.
Ms. Murray said, “I had no idea what HPV was. Nobody talked about it at school, in my family or in my group of friends. ‘
Pictured: Jo Murray with her husband Brett. They each have two children and a son who is 15 years old
Pictured: Ms. Murray with her daughter Josephine in Sydney prior to being diagnosed with cancer
The former banker said when she heard a specialist say the words “I’m sorry you have cancer” in March 2020, she thought it was a death sentence.
“I let uncles, aunts, cousins and a brother-in-law die of cancer – no one in my immediate family survived,” she said.
The doctor said her chances of survival were good and urged her to stay positive.
“I really liked that and I didn’t let my feelings get in the way,” she said.
For the following months, Ms. Murray underwent chemotherapy and radiation, ate and drank through a feeding tube, took pain medication every four hours, and needed her husband Brett to look after her 24 hours a day.
Most of her adult children lived interstate with their partners and were unable to visit them at the time due to Covid restrictions in hospitals, but her sisters and mother cooked and helped around the house while she was sick.
In August, she was told that the cancer was gone.
Pictured: Ms. Murray with her sisters before their cancer diagnosis. Her family helped her overcome her illness
Pictured: Ms. Murray in hospital with two of her children. She relied on a feeding tube
Ms. Murray underwent chemotherapy and radiation, and ate and drank through a feeding tube
“I’m so happy that I had my family there to look after me,” she said. “And that I trusted my gut and got a second opinion.”
The first doctor she went to in early 2020 told her she was just fighting an infection and gave her a prescription for antibiotics.
“I was really angry and unsure why – I just knew it wasn’t an infection and I knew something was wrong,” she said.
He gave her a script but she knew she wouldn’t fill it out and tossed it straight in the trash and made an appointment to see her regular GP when he was back from vacation.
He sent her off for a series of scans and tests that eventually led to her life-saving diagnosis.
Ms. Murray said she didn’t get regular pap smears at the time, but that the virus would likely have emerged had she done it.
Pictured: Ms. Murray in the hospital with her mother while she is being treated for throat cancer
Pictured: Ms. Murray celebrates her 46th birthday while on a feeding tube
Ms. Murray said she couldn’t have survived cancer without her family (pictured)
She is now trying to encourage women of all ages to get tested regularly and get a second opinion if they know something is wrong
She is now trying to encourage women of all ages to get tested regularly and get a second opinion if they know something is wrong.
“It’s so important not to be ashamed to talk about HPV – sex is human and we need more people who are aware that it can lead to head and neck cancer,” she said.
She is hosting her first largest morning tea in Australia on Saturday to raise awareness and money for the Cancer Council.
The mother encouraged others to seek a second or third opinion, if possible, and “listen to your body”.
WHAT IS HUMAN PAPILLOMAVIRUS?
HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection that usually has no symptoms and goes away on its own, but can sometimes cause serious illness.
The virus spreads through close contact with the genital skin and can infect both men and women.
Condoms offer some, but not complete, protection against HPV because they do not cover the entire genital skin.
You may be exposed to HPV the first time sexual activity occurs or only from a sexual partner.
There are different types of HPV – some are considered “low risk” and others are “high risk”.
Low risk types of HPV cause genital warts and do not cause cancer. Some high-risk types of HPV can cause serious illness, including cancer.
HPV is responsible for:
– Almost all cases of genital warts and cervical cancer.
– 90 percent of anal cancers.
– 65 percent of vaginal cancers.
– 50 percent of vulvar cancers.
– 35 percent of penile cancers
– 60 percent of oropharyngeal cancers – throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils.
Source: Cancer Council