'Friends' to hold party for Bill Fund-raiser will help on cancer treatments

September 17, 1996|By Diane E. Otts | Diane E. Otts,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Bill's Friends are getting together Saturday for a 15-hour party, including skating, soccer, basketball, a Monte Carlo night and more -- but Bill won't be there.

It's not that Bill -- William Martinez of Columbia's Oakland Mills village -- doesn't want to show up. The longtime ice hockey coach and his wife, Margie, and younger son Jonathan, 12, are in Seattle at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, where Martinez is being treated for lymphoma.

While Martinez, 47, fights for his life, his friends -- calling themselves simply "Bill's Friends" -- are scrambling to raise money to help pay his medical bills.

"It has moved me to the point of tears that so many people care so much," Martinez said in a telephone interview from the family's apartment in Seattle. Their older son, Zachary, 15, is staying with friends in Maryland so he can continue his sophomore year of studies and participate in ice hockey.

The massive doses of antibiotics, multiple courses of radiation and chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant and numerous blood transfusions have at times left the Thunder Hill neighborhood resident incoherent, unable to eat and too weak to walk.

The treatments also have left the Martinez family with a huge medical bill -- their share of the marrow transplant alone is $40,000 -- at a time when Martinez's job as an independent remodeler is bringing in no income.

So his friends got together to help create "Bill's Day," a series of events from 9 a.m. to midnight Saturday at Trinity School that will allow everyone from kindergartners to adults to help raise money

for the family.

Children's events include a used toy and book sale and a number of marathons, including a horseshoe-a-thon, skate-a-thon, soccer-a-thon, moonwalk-a-thon and dance-a-thon. A basketball-a-thon will feature an appearance by a Washington Bullets player. A Monte Carlo night for adults will run until midnight.

"Our goal is to let the kids have a chance to help with the fund," said Sister Catherine Phelps, principal of Trinity School, where Margie Martinez teaches and Jonathan is a student.

"They've been praying daily since last year and continue to this year. This summer, a group of parents raised money with a golf outing, and the kids wanted to know what they could do to help."

Jim Doherty and his wife, Mary Jo, are among 20 people who are helping to organize Bill's Day.

"Even a family in the best of financial situations would be burdened by the costs of Bill's treatments," he said.

So staff members at Trinity School, St. John's Roman Catholic Church and the Howard County Youth Ice Hockey Club -- where Martinez has coached for almost 10 years -- have joined with neighbors and relatives to help offset expenses from Martinez's illness.

Martinez's first indication that he was ill came near the end of 1994, when he noticed a pain in his groin while coaching ice hockey. Doctors found a lump and treated it as an infection. The pain did not subside, and a CT scan and biopsies revealed multiple tumors in his groin and abdomen.

In January 1995, he was diagnosed with lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph system. The lymph system helps filter bacteria and is important in fighting disease. In lymphoma, cells multiply uncontrollably.

The American Cancer Society estimates that Martinez's case was one of 71,200 diagnosed in 1995, making lymphoma the third most rapidly increasing cancer in the past 20 years.

"When Bill was first diagnosed, his lymphoma was identified as a garden variety of cancer that could be easily treated," his wife said. Chemotherapy treatments shrunk the tumors noticeably.

"Things seemed to be stable," Bill Martinez said. "But then my platelet count started to drop, drop, drop." Platelets, the smallest cell elements in blood, which are needed to control bleeding, often are destroyed by lymphoma.

In November, doctors said tests indicated that Martinez was OK, despite the low platelet level.

But eight months ago, the tumors reappeared. A biopsy revealed that Martinez had a rare, recently discovered and aggressive form of the cancer. A more intense round of chemotherapy left his immune system weakened and Martinez with infections.

"Every time it was time to go home from the hospital, something else would pop up," he said.

In June, the cancer spread to his central nervous system and he was told that his only hope was a bone marrow transplant from his sister, Janet Kornick. The transplant took place in Seattle early last month.

Martinez is out of the hospital, but is required to have daily checkups. His platelet count remains low, although physical therapy has helped him regain use of his legs. The muscles had atrophied from his hospital stays.

"I'm beginning to feel like I'm getting back to normal," Martinez said. "Before, I couldn't even walk to the car. Now I can walk into the grocery store, but it is a major accomplishment."

The Martinezes left for Seattle before they were aware of the formation of "Friends of Bill," as the group also is known.

"With all of their involvement, we felt really connected to Maryland even though we are 3,000 miles away," Margie Martinez said. "We'll never be able to thank them."

Bill Martinez, who may be able to return home late next month, agreed. "These people are incredible. We have so many people praying for us, it can't go wrong."

For information about Bill's Day, call Jim or Mary Jo Doherty at 796-6431.

Pub Date: 9/17/96

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