Former broadcaster shares his battle with Leukemia

Dec 17, 2013

A former Buffalo radio newsman is battling Leukemia. Ray Marks is preparing to undergo a stem cell transplant at the end of January. As WBFO's Eileen Buckley reports, the retired broadcaster and now adjunct professor wants to share his story in hopes of helping others.

Former Buffalo broadcasters Ray Marks, battling Leukemia, perseveres as he continued to teach a class at Medaille this fall while undergoing chemotherapy.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

For years you could hear Ray Marks delivered the news with a smooth and commanding style on the airwaves.  Marks was a news anchor in the 1990's at WGR.  Now his voice is now weakened a bit by chemotherapy treatment.  Marks is back on the airwaves to discuss his very personal health journey with WBFO.  He wants to emphasize the importance of monitoring one's health.

"If I didn't go to the doctor, I don't know when this might have surfaced, except I was feeling worse and worse -- weaker and weaker -- and I'm sure it could have led to some calamity," said Marks.

Last August Marks was feeling like he had a bad cold and experience weakness. After having his blood drawn, he was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome, previously known as pre-Leukemia. 

"Classically, Myelodyplastic Syndrome patients present with bone marrow failure," said Dr. Elizabeth Griffiths of Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Griffiths is treating Marks. He gave us permission to speak her about the cancer and his treatment.

"The systems of bone marrow failure are things like shortness of breath, bleeding, frequent infections," said Dr. Griffiths.

"As the doctors put it, I might pass away in like a year to 14-months," said Marks. "So obviously a stem cell transplant is possibly curable," said Marks.

Dr. Griffiths noted that this form of Leukemia is "common as people as age" as our stem cells are exposed over a life-time of living.

"I'm sure everybody has been standing behind a car that made black smoke, has had exposure to paint sometime over the course of their life," said Dr. Griffiths.  "All of those exposures you have in the course of your lifetime -- your stem cells are exposed to those too."
"It's terrible to have it, but I have also realizing, at least, there is a chance for me," said Marks.  "After this transplant, I'm hoping -- and I'm convinced that I'm going to do well."

Marks wants to share his story to help raise awareness of this disease. From his past broadcast career as a former Channel 4-news producer -- Marks once worked with the late news anchor Bob Koop, who initially battled Leukemia very privately.  Marks wants to take a different approach.

"And it was very tragic when he actually held a news conference about his pending demise, and I just decided that I'm going to do it the other way, plus I know I'm going to beat this," said Marks. "I'm expecting to make it, and that's one thing about stem cell transplants -- it saves many lives."

Marks, a retired broadcaster, has spent the last decade helping to teach broadcast and public speaking classes at several area schools.  He's also an avid fisherman -- who resides in Angola -- along Lake Erie.  He's been a local liaison for the Veterans Administration's Healing Waters Project, teaching wounded vets how to fly fish. 

As he prepares for the stem cell transplant at Roswell Park -- he has been undergoing an aggressive chemotherapy routine -- on for seven days -- off only two.  It requires shots into his stomach. He also goes receives blood and platelet transfusions to boost his body.  But the treatments haven't prevented the retired broadcaster from teaching.

Ray Marks supports himself with a walker during his class at Medaille.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Marks used a walker as he completed his final public speaking class at Medaille College in Buffalo.  Students have been inspired by their teacher's personal health battle.  Many referred to how he taught them to release their fears of public speaking.

"The perseverance he has is incredible," said Alex Yebernetsky, a second year psychology major at Medaille, taking Marks's public speaking class.

"I don't want to speak for all of us -- but just from a personal experience -- just seeing him go through what he has to do, and it just really reflects me as a person as well -- what I can do.  This is just another thing on his character -- can rub off on all of us and we can learn a thing or two," said Yebernetsky.

When Medaille freshman Liz Barrett, also a psychology major, learned this past fall that Marks was suffering from Leukemia, she immediately contact Roswell to donate platelets to her teacher.

Freshman Liz Barrett in Marks's public speaking class. Barrett is donating platelets at Roswell to help her teacher during treatment.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

"So I called Roswell, actually two minutes after I got out of class. I called them, and asked them, what I could do to help," said Barrett.  "You can actually donate to a specific person, so you need the patient number and you just tell them that number and they give it to that person."

This is allowing Barrett's platelets to go directly to Marks.

"On my bag itself -- it says Ray's name and his patient number -- so my platelets are going right to Ray," said Barrett.

"I am so touched by all the students," said Marks.  "They know what has been happening and a number of them actually donated blood, and so what can you say about that, expect that, sometimes people today say that young people don't get it -- well I would argue with them that indeed they do get it." 

After Marks left the classroom students signed a "Get Well" card for him.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Students who took Ray Marks's public speaking class at Medaille 2013 Fall semester have rallied around their teacher.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Fortunately two donors in the United States have been confirmed, agreeing to offer their stem cells to Marks for his transplant surgery next month.  But recovery will be long -- as the bone marrow begins to set itself up -- and allowing the new immune system to take up presidency in Marks's body.  His system will be vulnerable and will remain hospitalized for about a month, but his outlook is filled with optimism.

"Let's face it, all of us human beings, at one time or another, are going to leave this planet, so -- in other words -- who am I -- I don't want to go yet obviously and I have work I want to do, and my students -- just give me -- really the vibes come back to me where I just have more energy," said Marks.