The Rose Hill Polo match came to a screeching halt! Five pounds of energy was racing about the field attempting to engage the ponies in play. After a few heart attack moments, quick little Maxwell was scooped up to safety and placed back in his mistress's purse. One of Jill and Steve Murphy's primary joys, Maxwell made the Savannah Morning News' headlines! Maxwell Murphy regularly attends Sunday service at St. Andrew by the Sea United Methodist Church, and "when I could sing, choir practice too," laughed Jill. "The beach is sheer bliss, and polo matches mean playing with the ponies, of course. He enjoys trips to Savannah with me, and knows it well." Little Maxwell has a special talent for stealing hearts wherever he appears. His most joyful and important job, however, is accompanying Mistress Jill to ensure her happiness. Ironically, the little guy nearly missed his chance.
Jill, having been in the ring with cancer four times, (always scoring a knock out!) still hesitated over getting another pet. "We had two wonderful dogs. Both died within six weeks of each other. I was so devastated, and since I had been so ill, I did a lot of soul searching about whether I would be here. My son, Christopher, called after I was diagnosed with cancer the fourth time, insisted I have another dog, and promised me, if something happened, he would love and care for it as I did. At a Hilton Head dog show, I spied a little Yorkie and sought out the breeder from Kentucky. The pups she had with her were larger than I wanted, but she called me nine months later saying a little baby boy puppy, four pounds, eight ounces, was ready for a home. We drove 14 hours to Kentucky to pick up Maxwell! He's our first Yorkie, and he's not a dog - he's a person! He's loyal and smart and the best little dog we've ever had!" declared Jill, who discovered Hilton Head in the late '60s. "Steve and I sat on the beach, that day reluctant to leave. We found a real estate agent and bought a Lighthouse Villa before we left! We sold it in the '70s and bought a South Beach Villa, where we stayed until we found a home in Hilton Head Plantation. We were renovating it and living in one of the bedrooms and the kitchen when I was informed in December 2001 I had ovarian cancer. Actually, a PET scan discovered it, and saved my life. We moved back home to Huntington, New York for chemo treatments, and in 2002, I had three surgeries. Finally, in June, we were able to return to Hilton Head. The only thing to do for this kind of cancer is to keep it stable and stop it from spreading. I continued treatment in Savannah, which is why Maxwell knows it so well! He is always with me!"
As a Stephen Minister, Jill regularly visits a nursing home with Maxwell to encourage and talk with the patients. " Each visit we spoke to a woman who never responded to anyone, just stared. One day as I held Maxwell, she finally reached out for him... saying, 'Pretty little dog. I had a dog.' It's so amazing how an animal can reach into the deepest part of the human heart."
Jill and Maxwell know better than most of us about the heart and its capabilities. Their shared bond lightens Jill's heart as she struggles through more chemotherapy to kill the spreading tumors attempting once again to capture her body. In 2010, she was given only three months to live, but she firmly believes, "It's all in attitude. It's our worst enemy. When tagged, it's no one's fault. It just happens, and we cannot blame anyone. Cancer, or any fatal disease, changes our life in seconds, and all those who love us. I experienced sadness, depression, loneliness... thought it was too much to bear. It's the loneliest place to be. Friends treat you differently, and are afraid to talk about it, worried it will be too depressing. All the wonderful people at St. Andrew are a blessing and have helped us over so many hurtles," said Jill, thankfully.
With a scarf covering her head, which has been shaved again from more chemotherapy she'll endure another three months, Jill ran into a woman whose head was also covered. She politely guessed Jill was going through treatment, as she was. The two decided to have lunch, discuss life, their percentages of holding on to it and how to tackle it. "She gave me her motto... "Whine or shine!" Jill smiled. "I've decided to shine, and hopefully, I can help and touch someone experiencing this. She shines with her husband of nearly 50 years, their two sons and seven grandchildren, daily exhibiting her exuberance, "life is a gift!"
Wouldn't it be lovely, if all of us would shine as Jill does, recognizing this gift, before it slips away.