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Craig, Emily and Linda Murphy at the Old Well on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.

What began as a simple freckle ended up costing one man his life and his family a life without him. But despite the devastating outcome, Linda Murray, 67, and her daughter, Emily Murray, have found a way to honor the life and experience of Craig Murray, husband and father, by creating an ocular melanoma research fund at UNC Lineberger that bears his name.

Craig Murray was diagnosed with melanoma more than 20 years ago. His wife said he was religious about going to the dermatologist, due to his family’s love of outdoor activities, so the cancer was caught fairly early.

“He was a freckled man and had a dark spot on his lower eyelid, so he went to his dermatologist and asked about the freckle. They told him ‘We’ll scrape it off,’ and it came back in situ melanoma,” Linda Murray said. “That got the ball rolling, but it just got worse, every time he went back, it got larger.”

He battled the melanoma for years, seeing specialists at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia on the recommendation of friends and his doctors, but nothing seemed to keep the cancer at bay.

“We thought we were ahead of it,” Linda Murray said.

“What was just an in situ melanoma became a series of Mohs surgeries, cryotherapies, and reconstructions, each more and more invasive,” Emily Murray said. “They removed and reconstructed his bottom eyelid at least twice, and no one was calling it in situ anymore. It was pretty rare from what we’ve been told.”

Craig was active outdoors and routinely visited his dermatologist.

During the years he dealt with his cancer, Craig Murray never let his melanoma prevent him from getting the most out of life. He avidly watched Carolina football and basketball games, enjoyed traveling, and relished living near the beach, all while making doctor’s appointments for himself and hiding his pain well.

But in May, 2020, Craig Murray’s melanoma had metastasized to his liver, spleen, stomach, femur, pelvis and spine. He passed away less than a month later. Motivated to preserve his legacy of helping others, and to pave the way for other families to avoid the ordeal they went through, Linda and Emily Murray established a melanoma research fund at UNC Lineberger that bears Craig’s name.

“Dad was a UNC grad, and me too; we were both big Tar Heels, and he would’ve been tickled to find out this research would have gone on at Carolina,” Emily Murray said.

Emily and Linda Murray met with UNC Lineberger’s David Ollila, MD, a surgical oncologist, to learn more about research and progress being made in melanoma. Both were impressed with the level of talent and dedication to the melanoma program at UNC Lineberger and felt confident in their donations funding the right projects and efforts.

“At UNC, they allocate your funds so that much more of your donation goes to research, and we felt really good that the percentage was going to research and what we wanted it to go to,” Emily Murray said. “We felt like it was honoring him, and it helped us heal. We grieve constantly, but this is the way we can heal.”

Keeping Craig Murray’s legacy alive is another bonus for his wife and daughter. Linda Murray said her husband was a generous man, giving to children’s cancer causes and veterans organizations, and she hopes the progress made in melanoma research serves a greater purpose for other families going through the same thing.

“Craig’s always with us, we just feel good every time we write a check,” Linda Murray said.

Emily Murray said her father would be impressed by how far melanoma research has progressed, and it would have humbled him to have a fund at UNC in his name.

“It would be a thumbs up all the way. He’d say ‘good girl.’” Linda Murray said.

Emily Murray summed it up best. “He’d say ‘Go ‘Heels!’”