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Harry Martin Harry Martin

Harry Martin on Surviving Cancer:

“Don’t give up on the fight when you hear the word ‘cancer.’ You have to be ready to fight. If I came out of pancreatic cancer three times, you can, too.”


Harry strongly advises everyone to keep up with their annual health screenings and be their own best advocate, particularly men who are often reluctant to see the doctor until something goes wrong.

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Surviving Pancreatic Cancer Three Times

To say that Harry Martin is a walking miracle wouldn’t be an exaggeration. Against all odds, he beat stage 3 pancreatic cancer not once but three times.

Harry’s journey started in 2014 when he was 42. He began experiencing stomach pain, back pain, unexplained weight loss, and lack of appetite. He wasn’t sure what was wrong, but he knew it wasn’t normal, so he went to see his doctor, who did an exam and ordered tests.

“They didn’t find a problem, so I went back to work,” explained Harry, who at the time was a utility worker for the City of Houston. “But I was still in all this pain, and I was still losing weight.”

Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer is difficult to diagnose, even in later stages. There are no specific screenings for it, and many times there are either no symptoms or the symptoms mimic other conditions, such as acid reflux. Even after a series of tests, including an endoscopy, the source of Harry’s symptoms remained elusive.

But he wouldn’t give up until he got the answers he needed. His doctor was just as determined to find the problem and ordered a CAT scan. Soon after, Harry received a call from Dr. Tejash Patel, a Hematology and Oncology specialist at the Kelsey-Seybold Cancer Center.

“I’ll never forget that day. Dr. Patel said, ‘You need to check yourself into the hospital right now. You have a mass on your pancreas,’” Harry recalled.

A Will to Live

A biopsy revealed that the mass was malignant, and since it was in the middle of his pancreas, it was also inoperable.

“I asked one of the doctors in the hospital what my chances were of beating this cancer. He told me, ‘Very, very, very slim.’ I took that as I wasn’t going to make it. I got really emotional, and I’ll never forget that I called my wife and told her that it was over for me,” said Harry.

But he was far from giving up the fight. Over the course of a year, Harry underwent many rounds of chemotherapy, as well as radiation, at Kelsey-Seybold’s Berthelsen Main Campus. There were many days of not being able to get out of bed, coupled with extreme weight loss, but Harry was able to keep a positive attitude thanks to a strong support system that included his wife and other family, friends, and coworkers.

In 2015, a CAT scan showed no remaining signs of pancreatic cancer, and Harry was very excited to ring the bell. But this would not be Harry’s last battle with cancer. Two years later, in 2017, he noticed he was again losing weight for no reason and called Dr. Patel. A CAT scan revealed another mass on Harry’s pancreas, and, for the second time, Harry was diagnosed with stage 3 pancreatic cancer.

After chemotherapy treatment, Harry underwent a distal pancreatectomy, a type of surgery in which part of his pancreas was removed. He then underwent more chemo.

After eight months of treatment, he again showed no signs of cancer. Although relieved, Harry still wondered why he had gotten sick again.

“I kept asking myself, ‘What’s wrong? Why do I keep getting pancreatic cancer?’ I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I never drank or smoked in my life,” he said.

While Harry was healthy before his cancer diagnoses, he does have one significant risk factor: a family history of cancer. His mother had cervical cancer. His grandfather passed away from both lung and bone cancer. And his cousin is now battling his second round of brain cancer.

Pay Attention to Your Body

In 2018, Harry was again experiencing unexplained weight loss and contacted Dr. Patel.

“Everybody has to pay attention to their body,” he said. “When you’re losing weight for no reason, something isn’t right.”

Harry had another mass, this time in the middle of his pancreas, and was again diagnosed with stage 3 pancreatic cancer.

“I just couldn’t believe it had come back again for the third time,” he said.

Harry returned to the Kelsey-Seybold Cancer Center at the Berthelsen Main Campus for chemotherapy and a special form of radiation called stereotactic radiation therapy.

After another eight months of treatment, he received the good news that he had no more signs of cancer, which amazed not just him but also his doctor.

“Dr. Patel told me that as much as he deals with cancer, he’s never seen anybody go through pancreatic cancer three times and still be here to talk about it,” he said.

Harry says he’ll always be grateful to his Kelsey-Seybold Cancer Center healthcare team, especially Dr. Patel.

“I love Dr. Patel,” he said. “He’s one of the best. He listens to you. What you’re saying means something to him.”

Giving Inspiration and Hope to Others

Harry is now in remission, and although he can no longer work after what his body has been through, he’s determined to use his experience to inspire others.

His advice to those recently diagnosed with cancer is, “Don’t give up. Don’t give up on the fight when you hear the word ‘cancer.’ You have to have your mind right. You have to be ready to fight. It’s a different type of fight when you’re fighting cancer. There’s a chance you can come out of it like I did. If I came out of pancreatic cancer three times, you can, too. You never know how strong you are until you go through it.”

He also strongly advises everyone to keep up with their annual health screenings and be their own best advocate, particularly men who are often reluctant to see the doctor until something goes wrong. Harry credits his regular checkups and persistence for his still being here to talk about his experience.

“A lot of men are stubborn about going to the doctor. I’d like to tell them, ‘Hey, man, you have someone who loves you. People depend on you, so you need to go to the doctor and get yourself checked. Don’t wait until it’s too late. And if you think something’s wrong, be persistent. That’s one thing that saved my life. I kept going until I got the right answer.”

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