Michael A. Victor, 45, carpenter and car buff

He was an inspiration to other cancer patients

October 24, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Michael A. Victor, a Finksburg carpenter whose 2 1/2 -year struggle with pancreatic cancer served as an inspiration to those similarly afflicted across the nation, died from the disease Monday at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. He was 45.

A Baltimore native who was raised in Owings Mills, Mr. Victor was a 1975 graduate of Pikesville High School.

Until receiving a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in 2000, he had been employed as a carpenter by Property Construction Co. in Baltimore for more than 20 years. The business, which specializes in house restoration, is owned by his father.

"He loved working with wood and renovating houses. There wasn't anything he couldn't build. He was a perfectionist," said his wife of 13 years, the former Mindy Sue Snyder. "He had million-dollar hands, a million-dollar smile, and a million-dollar personality."

He was a star left fielder and leadoff batter for several company softball leagues.

Mr. Victor enjoyed reading about World War II and had collected a large library devoted to the subject. He also enjoyed playing with Lucy, his mixed black Labrador retriever and setter.

He also was a classic car buff, and in June 2000, just before his illness was discovered, Mr. Victor had traveled to Illinois and purchased the car of his dreams - a white-and-orange Camaro convertible that had been the official pace car at the 1969 Indianapolis 500 race.

"He collapsed at work several days later and on July 26 was diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer. His physicians didn't think he'd make it to Christmas," said Mrs. Victor, a registered nurse who is now financial manager for Saturn of Glen Burnie.

Mr. Victor never got a chance to drive his vintage car, and had to stop working because of his medical condition. He endured an eight-hour operation that removed 90 percent of his pancreas, spleen, part of his liver and lymph nodes. Since July 2000, he survived eight additional surgeries and 22 months of chemotherapy.

Mrs. Victor took a leave from her job a year ago to help nurse and care for her husband.

Dr. Marc Gertner, a Baltimore general surgeon who operated on Mr. Victor, recalled his tremendous will to live and to overcome the cancer.

"He had both an inner and outer strength that was coupled with a strong will to live. He was a very quiet and gentle person who was always amenable to those who were trying to help," Dr. Gertner said.

"He outlived the prognosis, which gave him a medical survival of six to eight months. It really was quite unusual. ... He was an example of strength and courage," the surgeon said.

The Victors became active via e-mail with other pancreatic cancer patients and their families across the country.

"I never would have thought that I would be faced with this horrible disease. I thought life was so great. My husband had never been sick in his life outside of a cold once in every five years," Mrs. Victor wrote to another patient. "He was an athlete and a carpenter and full of life. Now we are both living with cancer. When he got sick he never said, `Why me?' What he said was, `Why not me? And if I got sick to save someone else, then that's OK.'"

Inspired by his determination to live, Mr. Victor's nurses and physicians visited him at his home. Plans by the Orioles to honor him with a Mike Victor Day at Camden Yards last month were canceled because of the threatened baseball strike.

"He had an entire sports room in our home where he displayed his Orioles memorabilia - baseball cards, bats, gloves and signed balls," Mrs. Victor said. "His Orioles hat, baseball glove and a ball will be placed in his casket."

Mr. Victor was a member of Hampstead Baptist Church.

Before his death, Mr. Victor wrote a two-page letter thanking those who prayed for his recovery. It will be read by his wife at the funeral service at 1 p.m. today at Northwest Baptist Church, 300 Westminster Road, Reisterstown.

"Prayer really works," Mr. Victor wrote. "Along with my family and old friends, I also have many of you praying for me. I have received cards and letters from congregations as far away as Chicago saying that I am on their prayer list."

He concluded: "Please don't feel sorry for me. Finding out how many people love and care for me, I consider myself a lucky man."

In addition to his wife, Mr. Victor is survived by his parents, William and Doris R. Victor of Upperco; two brothers, Terry Victor of Upperco and David Victor of Reisterstown; and uncles, aunts and many nephews and nieces.

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