Helping Patients with a Few Good Laughs

MJ and her new puppy

As patients come through for their MRIs and CT scans, MJ Murphy, RN, BS, has roughly 15 minutes to sit and talk, discuss treatment, and hear updates on friends and family. It’s not much time, but Murphy always tries to coax a smile.

“I love referring to the friends and family in the waiting room as the patient’s ‘fan club,” Murphy says. “It’s a small thing, but it makes them laugh.”

Murphy, who is a nurse in Dana-Farber’s Department of Imaging, knows the importance humor during a time of high stress and anxiety. In 2004, she was diagnosed with melanoma. The cancer spread to one of her lymph nodes and required multiple surgeries, treatment, and a few trips to the intensive care unit.

Her own experience with cancer helped her appreciate “the little things in life,” she says – and it helped her understand those little things can make a big difference in a patient’s day at Dana-Farber.

“It’s the little things that make people feel better, and that’s why I always try to throw a few jokes in there to make them laugh,” Murphy says. “I know what it’s like to be sick, to feel hopeless. I want to help them get through it.”

Long before she was making patients laugh, Murphy knew she wanted to be a nurse. At a young age, she always helped older relatives who were sick, and remembers feeding her great-grandmother ice cream while she was battling throat cancer.

With some assistance from a high school guidance counselor, Murphy started her caregiving career working in a nursing home. She went on to oncology inpatient care, the ICU, and a long stint as an emergency room nurse.

Her diagnosis and treatment put her on the sidelines for a time, but when she regained her health, Murphy turned her career back to working with cancer patients. The experience of diagnosis and treatment gave her a positive perspective that she hopes will carry through to the patients she meets with every day.

“It’s hard not to think about having cancer every minute of the day, but you can’t live that way,” Murphy says. “You have to learn how to live for today and think positive.”