For most people, friendships that last past high school are rare, and ones that began at birth and lasted until death are exceptional.
When Aaron Murphy lost his three-year battle with metastatic synovial sarcoma on Monday, July 8, 2019, at the age 24 years old, his friends and family promised that his memory and battle would not be in vain. Now, they have started a new effort known as The Murphy Fund.
Will Naylor and Aaron Murphy were destined to be friends. Will’s sister Jenny was best friends with Aaron’s mother. Melissa.
“We were born to be friends,” Will said.
Aaron graduated from Cranston High School East in 2013 and then attended the Community College of Rhode Island for general studies. He was an avid sports fan, but basketball was his true passion.
“He was always very funny, very good sense of humor. Even at an early age, [he could] easily hold conversations with adults. [He was] athletic, smart, savvy, he was mischievous, knew how to get his way. He liked Marvel superheroes – he was a big Spiderman kid all into adulthood, big into sneakers. He was at school more for the social experience and sports,” Will said.
Cindy Rivas, Aaron’s fiancée, joined the group in 2011.
“He saw me in the hallway [at Cranston East] and we high-fived. We started senior year, all my new classes had him in them. I feel like we were meant to be, we became best friends. We started dating in 2014, and got engaged January 2019,” Cindy said.
Rounding out The Murphy Fund founders is Zack Daigle.
“I joined in 2011 through Will at Cub World Scout Camp in Pascoag. So Will introduced us, and it was an instant love affair. We became a bromance. We hung out at least several times a week, we went on a cruise together while he was in maintenance stage,” Zack said.
The ironic part of Aaron’s illness was that he was first diagnosed when he was hit in the temple while playing basketball.
“At the end of summer 2016, he got a bump on his temple, and it was misdiagnosed. He was told it was a blood clot and to keep an eye on it. When it didn’t get better, we went to Boston Mass General. They discovered it to be a tumor,” Cindy said. “In September of 2016 he started radiation and underwent surgery to remove the bump. He was cancer free for two months, then in February of 2017, we found out spread the cancer had spread into his lungs.”
Aaron would endure two-hour chemotherapy sessions every week in Boston, three days in a row at a time for several months. Later in 2017, the chemo stopped working, so they switched him over to another form of treatment that took less time but was more aggressive. Aaron lost his hair and suffered the worst side effects of cancer.
This treatment stopped working after a few months. After searching for clinical trials and starting another form of chemotherapy, he entered maintenance.
“Aaron wasn’t big on trials, but did them to help others coming along. He told me he wanted me to do something after he passed. He knew they wouldn’t help him,” Will said.
During all his treatments, his appointments and the travel to Boston, Aaron was always surrounded by family – his mother Melissa, father Rui, cousins and friends who will always be family.
The Murphyfund started with Will.
“Aaron was denied a trial in February of 2018 and I got angry. I ended up going into a productive fit. I emailed the National Foundation for Cancer Research’s CEO. I told him Aaron’s story, asked why isn’t this fixed. It was a very angry vent session,” said Will.
Will surprisingly did hear back.
“He appreciated my efforts for trying to do something, and said ‘Thank you for your story,’” Will said.
Not even a month after Aaron passed away, on July 26, the The Murphy Fund was incorporated.
“ It was very important to us to make sure we knew where all donations were going. We knew we knew nothing about starting a fund, brought in Zack, and highlighted every one’s talents to make it work,” Will said.
Currently, they are waiting for formal nonprofit status. They are licensed as a nonprofit organization, and the only sarcoma foundation in Rhode Island.
“We really started off to tell Aaron’s story, that’s a huge thing. Start a fund for sarcoma research and awareness. Essentially, we want people to have an opportunity for help. When he was diagnosed with sarcoma cancer, medical professionals in Rhode Island didn’t know how to treat him in Rhode Island. That is very sad and scary,” Cindy said.
The group has participated in a number of events thus far, and its schedule is filling up.
“We are shy of $3,000 in fewer than two months. Right now, we are holding the money. We want to be able to help the way we agree on,” Zack said.
The group has also reached out to Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who said he was impressed with the effort. He has sought to connect the organizers with valuable resources going forward.
“I met with Will Naylor, Cindy Rivas, and Zach Daigle of The Murphy Fund and learned about the tragic passing of their lifelong friend, Aaron, after an intense battle with sarcoma cancer,” Fung said in an email. “I was moved by their story about Aaron and his love for life as well as their mission to keep Aaron's legacy alive. I am there to support them as they raise funds to battle sarcoma cancer and hopefully find a cure.”
The three organizers realize the gravity of their pursuit.
“We are going to set up an executive board, a group of people that keeps us in check. We’re very protective, but also open to hearing from professionals,” Will said.
They truly want to honor Aaron and his philosophy.
“Aaron specifically said, don’t be sad. Be happy, be as happy as he was, live life,” Cindy said.
To learn more about Aaron and how to help, visit themurphyfund.org or follow the group on social media using the hashtag #AM22.