Mary Murphy Now Cancer Free

The “So You Think You Can Dance?” coach shares her road to recovery. An edited version of the interview follows.

by Ilyssa Panitz • Celebrity Reporter
mary murphy so you think you can dance image
Photograph: Sergio Fernandez

More: You are returning to So You Think You Can Dance?
Mary Murphy: Yes, I am back full time.

More: You’re finally revealing why you temporarily left the show.
MM: Yes, I was sick with thyroid cancer. I really didn’t talk too much about it or tell too many people what was happening. I wanted to deal with it on my own.

More: When did you know you were sick?
MM: I knew I had a tumor in me for three years. When I first saw it, the doctors said, “It’s not cancer, but we need to keep an eye on it. Come back in six months.” I never did. During the summer of 2010, I was feeling exhausted all of the time, slowing down, and my voice started changing. It was then I knew something wasn’t right, but I never thought I had cancer.

More: Take me back to the day the doctors told you that you had cancer.
MM: I’m not going to lie. At first, I had a large sigh and said, “Are you kidding me?” But I also felt blessed—it was a bittersweet feeling actually. Not only did I find out that I could still talk, but I was happy that I woke up from the operation since all surgeries have a risk factor. Then of course there is the letdown hearing, You have cancer.

More: What scared you most about your diagnosis?
MM: Before I had the surgery, the doctors told me I ran the risk of never speaking again or hearing myself laugh. That was a frightening thought.

More: Were you terrified hearing it was thyroid cancer?
MM: It was a roller coaster of emotions. It was terrifying because you think it will never happen to you. Yet given my family history, I am a candidate.

More: Does cancer run in your family?
MM: Yes. My first cousin had thyroid cancer, my dad died of lung cancer, and my brother had stage 4 colon cancer. As for my cancer, it was moving very slowly.

More: What type of treatment did you have after the surgery?
MM: A radioactive isotope where they put a high dose of radiation into your body. Because the radiation is so strong, you are under quarantine for seven days. I mean, you can’t leave your house or see people. That part was awful and very isolating.

More: How did you live your life during that time?
MM: You can’t use any utensils. You have to eat on paper and then discard everything right after you use them. You have to eat lemon and limes every day so you cut down on the radiation in your saliva, and you have to force yourself to cry so your tear ducts stay intact.

More: Did you experience any side effects?
MM: My hair broke off, and I had a difficult time growing my own fingernails. Thank God for fake nails [laughs].

More: Do you live in fear knowing the cancer could come back?
MM: I know it is a possibility. But I am also aware of all of the other cancers that run in my family. Because of what I went through, I now stay on top of getting all of my checkups even though getting an appointment seems to be hard because of the long waiting lists.

More: Are you disappointed that you let the tumor sit there for so long?
MM: Yes. It was stupid. You know, everything that year was spinning out of control, and I was just trying to keep up. But the most important thing that I overlooked was my health, and I won’t let that happen again.

More: How are you today?
MM: I think I was born with an extra happy gene because I see humor everywhere. Not only am I OK, but I laugh all of the time, even at myself.

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First Published May 26, 2011

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