2014 Gervais graduate recounts his struggle to defeat cancer and ultimately achieve his goals

by: TYLER FRANCKE - Edwin Martinez (left) receives his diploma at graduation Saturday in Gervais High School from Gervais School Board Chairman Brent LaFollette and Superintendent Rick Hensel.Edwin Martinez is a typical teenager: He holds a part-time job in retail, he enjoys basketball and he likes hanging out his friends.

And like hundreds of other local students, he walked across the stage to receive his high school diploma this past weekend.

But what makes him unusual is the road he had to take to finally get that diploma — the road of recovery from cancer.

At first, 12-year-old Martinez, who grew up in Gervais, didn’t think much of the achiness he felt in his chest, especially when his doctor told him it was normal.

“It felt like a giant block was hitting me,” he remembered. “But then it was hurting all the way up and down my legs and arms, so they took me to the hospital in Salem.”

It was there, after completing tests, that he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It wasn’t until after that he realized there was a large lump on the back of his neck, a tumor in his lymph gland. There were three more lumps — in his face, the front of his neck and near his armpit — that had to be removed during surgery.

“I didn’t know anything about cancer up to that point,” he admitted. “I was really scared going into surgery. It’s like what you see in movies: the heartbeat sound, I felt cold and my heart was beating fast.”

Martinez spent the majority of his middle school years at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, going through chemotherapy treatments and receiving tutoring.

“The volunteer helpers did a lot to help kids focus on other things,” Martinez said. “They were people who really care about you. I’d like to do that myself one day (be a volunteer).”

When he finally finished his last round of chemo, it was just a couple months before he started high school.

“My immune system was slow, so most days I felt nauseous or I’d cough up blood,” he said. “So I didn’t go to school and the high school didn’t know my condition.”

Falling behind in classes and missing so much school, Martinez found himself in a deep depression.

“I thought, ‘I’m not like the other kids. I can’t do the stuff they can,’” he said.

The time was tough for his family as well. Shortly after finishing chemo, Martinez’s youngest brother, Jose, started getting treatments for scleroderma, a chronic skin disease which restricts him from accomplishing seemingly simple tasks.

“It was rough on my mom especially because she’s the one at home taking care of us,” Martinez said.

His junior year, he finally switched to what was then Douglas Avenue Alternative School, which has since been renamed Samuel Brown Academy. That’s when things started turning around. He started going to group therapy sessions with other young people who had battled cancer.

“That helped me,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’ve got to up my game.’ I didn’t have the full high school experience but I didn’t let that weigh me down.”

He appreciated the small, one-on-one feel of Sam Brown Academy, where the student to teacher ratio is much smaller and where school is structured around him, not the other way around.

“At the high school, I wouldn’t have done so well,” he admitted. “Here, I can work at my own pace; at the high school, you have to keep pace with everybody else. And I couldn’t concentrate because I didn’t feel good.”

Now, Martinez feels much better, having a clean bill of health and a diploma, even though it took an extra year to achieve that.

I feel better about myself,” he said. “I love working, I go to the movies, I play basketball. Before I distanced myself from friends, but I’ve made new friends.”

While his job working at the Woodburn outlet mall is helping his family, Martinez hopes to attend Chemeketa Community College in the fall and then go to a four-year school to major in graphic design.

“I’ve liked to draw since second grade,” Martinez said. “It clears my mind and is one of the things that got me out of the depression I had.”

After all he went through, Martinez said that, in a way, he feels like there’s a reason for it all — to help out his little brother.

“We have something in common,” he said. “I tell him not to think about the negatives. There are times he’s felt down, too, but he just needs to get out of that. You can’t let it hold you down forever. There’s more life to do and you’re not going to accomplish anything with that attitude. So be happy with what you have now.”

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