Despite cancer battle, it's business as usual for Senators GM Bryan Murray: 'We live our lives'

Despite cancer battle, it's business as usual for Senators GM Bryan Murray: 'We live our lives'

TORONTO — The NHL’s general managers held their November meeting Tuesday at the league office in Toronto. They sat around a football-shaped table in alphabetical order by team. Off to one side, between the New York Rangers’ Glen Sather and the Philadelphia Flyers’ Ron Hextall, was the Ottawa Senators’ Bryan Murray.

He didn’t have to be there. His wife has been telling him he’s old enough to retire for four or five years now, and he will turn 72 on Dec. 5. But hockey has been his life, and he isn’t ready to retire yet even though he has cancer and it has reached Stage 4, the final stage. So he postponed chemotherapy by a day to discuss minutiae like the dry scrape before overtime.

“We live our lives,” he said. “I’ve been very fortunate in my life to be involved as long as I have been. I go to the hospital. I see young people, young mothers and young children. And if I can’t be strong and brave, how can they be?”

Murray is a profile in courage, not just because he is fighting cancer, but because he is doing it in public, hoping to make a difference. He received his diagnosis June 23, just before the NHL draft. The news broke that he had cancer, but few knew the extent until he gave an interview to journalist Michael Farber, a cancer survivor himself, that aired on TSN on Nov. 13.

The video showed him open, honest and vulnerable. Murray sat with his shirt unbuttoned and cracked a joke as the nurse handled an IV in chemotherapy. He read the book “David and Goliath” as the medicine dripped down the tube and flowed into his body. He explained that he might have had colon cancer for seven to 10 years, and that it had spread to his liver and lungs, and that it could have been caught had he had a simple colonoscopy.

“I had the opportunity to sell the idea, if that’s the right word, that colonoscopies for all of us are important,” Murray said. “I thought the message could be and should be loud enough that it might affect some people and save some people.”

Murray says he wants to remain involved with the Sens and is in constant contact with owner Eugene Melnyk. (AP)
Murray says he wants to remain involved with the Sens and is in constant contact with owner Eugene Melnyk. (AP)

The interview upset his family. Even if his loved ones already knew his condition, it was hard for them to see him like that on television. But already Murray has heard from a number of people. Guys who played for him years ago told them they had not gotten around to a colonoscopy but would now. A nurse told him Monday night four or five people at one Ottawa clinic had come in because of the interview.

“We tend to put things off, and we’re almost invincible, and then we find out we’re not,” Murray said. “That message that’s out there, that’s what I care about.”

Murray’s nephew, Tim, told the Buffalo News he probably would not have left the Senators’ assistant GM job for the Sabres’ GM job Jan. 9 had he known Murray had Stage 4 cancer. The two spoke Tuesday at the GM meeting.

“Obviously the connection runs pretty deep,” Murray said. “But as I told him at that time, ‘You have an opportunity for one of these jobs, and they’re picking you. You better take it. There’s no guarantees in life.’ ”

No, there aren’t. Murray has two days of chemo every two weeks. It’s hard to sleep the first night, and it takes a lot out of him. He’s tired some days. He has lost more than 40 pounds. He can’t travel like he used to. But doctors and nurses allow him to work the chemo around his schedule somewhat, and he can rely on his assistants to do some of the scouting. So he keeps going to work, keeps doing what he can.

“I’m OK strengthwise,” he said, “and as long as I don’t get a chemo brain, I’ll be fine.”

He hasn’t lost his sense of humor.

“It’s not easy, but when you battle those things, you try to stay positive,” said Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman, who battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes. “I know I did. I know he does.”

Murray has received an outpouring of support from the hockey world – so many messages that he feels guilty he hasn’t been able to respond to them all as quickly as he would like to. At the GMs’ meeting Tuesday, some of his colleagues checked on him and wished him well. But there was no official announcement, no acknowledgment. It was business as usual.

He isn’t in denial. He doesn’t want pity, either.

“To be involved and active, I think, is important, and for me to go home and sit on the couch doesn't make a lot of sense to me, so I'm not going to do that,” Murray said. “[Senators owner Eugene Melnyk] has been very strong and involved with me and anything and everything as normal. I think that that's the way I want to operate right now.”

Asked about the future, he said it would depend on how he felt.

“Yeah, I think that there’s a time when I’ll retire,” he said. “But I see a lot of young guys coming up in our organization, and I’d like to be around as they play better and better and grow up.”

We live our lives.

“You can't hide from things,” he said. “Nobody wants it. I don't want this. I've never been sick in my life until I got this. I don't want to be that way. I don't want to put on a face that I don't have it. It is who I am, and I'm going to try to fight it for as long as I can. That's going to be a long time.”