By: Jennifer Hoffman

“If it weren’t for HEADstrong and Nick’s House, my family would be planning my funeral.”

That was the reality that Martin and Mercedes Chavez were facing when they found out he had cancer.

Martin lived a seemingly normal and healthy life, working in heating and air conditioning, spending weekends with his three young adult children, and just living life. 

That all changed in December of 2018. Martin finished his work week feeling like his normal self. He and his wife Mercedes went to church on Sunday then went to the mall to do some Christmas shopping. As Martin got out of the car he suddenly was overwhelmed by nausea and dizziness. “ I knew in that moment something wasn’t right” recalled Martin.

His wife immediately rushed him to the local Emergency Room and they called for a blood test and bone marrow biopsy. The tests showed that his counts were extremely low and he would need a blood transfusion ASAP. 

Within a span of an hour, Martin found himself in an ambulance on his way to Christiana Hospital in Delaware. It was there that doctors performed more testing to come to find out that what Martin was experiencing wasn’t just a random bout of nausea, but was ALL (Acute Lymphoma Leukemia). 

Martin and Mercedes would spend the next month and a half at the hospital, spending Christmas and ringing in the new year on the oncology floor. Martin started his first few rounds of chemotherapy to combat the cancer cells, but doctors informed him that those treatments wouldn’t be enough. One of the doctors mentioned a bone marrow transplant and recommended Penn Medicine in Philadelphia to do the procedure. 

For the Seaford, Delaware couple traveling over two hours to Philadelphia for a transplant just didn’t seem possible. How were they going to do it and who would be the donor? “The doctors asked if I had any siblings who could be a match. All of my siblings live in Mexico and would need a visa to come to the states” recalled Martin. Penn had another option in mind: his children.

Dr. McCurdy at Penn let Martin know that one of his children could be a possible donor match, and that they should move forward with testing to see if one is a match. All three of his children got tested and only one came back as a match. His 24 year old son Brentdy. 

The next dilemma on the Chavez’s hands? Where would they stay? 

A social worker at Penn let the couple know about the HEADstrong Foundation and Nick’s House. 

“I pray, ever since my diagnosis I’ve prayed. Everything is falling into place. Nick’s House is an answer to my prayers. We didn’t have the means to come to Philly. It’s a blessing” said Martin. 

Well Martin’s prayers were answered in more ways than one, they had a place to call home during treatment and a donor match for his transplant. 

On July 9th, Martin received his transplant from his son Brentdy. “Ever since we found out about my father’s diagnosis and the need for a donor, I hoped it would be me. It’s been an honor to be able to help someone who has helped me through everything in life” said Brentdy.  

Martin is now on day 51 of 100 days of treatment and no longer receiving chemotherapy. He gets a checkup once a week, regular infusions and pain medicine but other than that he’s as good as good can get right now. However, his journey to get to day 51 has not been a walk in the park. 

As if getting diagnosed with cancer wasn’t hard enough, both Martin and Mercedes lost their jobs. With insurance premiums and bills stacking up, they aren’t out of the woods just yet, and returning to a normal life after dealing with cancer doesn’t seem possible. But the Chavez’s had a strong support system both at Nick’s house and at home in Delaware that helped to alleviate some of the external stress. 

“When you go through cancer, you get frustrated. Just pull the plug, that was my thought. We can’t do this, no way.  My family helped to realize we have to do the transplant, it’s the right thing to do. I always thought I was really tough. I see my children and they were willing to help any way possible. To do whatever it takes. Family helped me so much” remarked Martin.  

That’s exactly how Martin intends to look at the remainder of his 100 days. Dr. McCurdy let him know about a clinical trial at John Hopkins in Baltimore that would help lower the risk of relapse. Unlike the transplant, Martin is 100% positive about doing the trial and whatever it takes to make sure the cancer doesn’t come back. 

For Martin and Mercedes, their entire journey with cancer has given them a new set of eyes on life “I thought I was doing good going to church every Sunday. I wasn’t really concerned about the wellbeing of others. When they told me about HEADstrong & I read Nick’s Story. It touched me. It got me thinking about how someone who is going through health problems, through pain and struggles, can think of helping others.So it’s been a journey of learning new things and this is a tangible way to reach out and help others.” 

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