Billy Owen’s life took an unexpected turn in 2009 when he was diagnosed with a rare and deadly cancer affecting his nasal cavity. The disease necessitated surgeons to remove half of his face, including his right eye. This life-altering event led Owen on a journey of resilience, motivating him to embrace new passions and find deeper meaning in helping others.
Facing a Devastating Diagnosis
In 2009, Billy Owen was a 39-year-old motorcycle mechanic living in Oklahoma with his wife and six-month-old son. At only 39 years old, he seemed to be in the prime of life. However, Owen started experiencing severe headaches and vision issues due to a blocked nostril. Initial doctors dismissed these problems as sinusitis, but eventually, specialists discovered Owen had sinonasal undifferentiated carcinoma (SNUC), an extremely rare cancer affecting the nasal cavity that had only a 10 per cent survival rate.
Sinonasal undifferentiated carcinoma (SNUC) is a very rare type of cancer that starts in the nasal cavity or paranasal sinuses. The nasal cavity is the space behind the nose where air passes on its way to the throat. The paranasal sinuses are the air-filled pockets around the nasal cavity. SNUC is called "undifferentiated" because the cancer cells do not look like normal cells when viewed under a microscope. They grow quickly and are more aggressive than other types of nasal and sinus cancers. SNUC can block sinuses or airways and destroy bone or other tissues around the nose and sinuses as it grows. This can cause symptoms like stuffy nose, headaches, vision changes, and facial swelling or numbness. Doctors aren't sure what causes SNUC, but treatment usually involves surgery to remove the tumor along with radiation and chemotherapy. SNUC has a very low survival rate compared to other cancers. Catching it early and getting quick treatment provides the best chance of survival.
With the cancer dangerously advanced, Owen’s prognosis was grim. Doctors determined his chances of survival were only 10 per cent. To have any hope of saving his life, surgeons needed to remove half of Owen’s face, including his right eye, facial nerves, and nasal cavity muscles.
As Owen describes, “I have very little sense of smell left. If it’s a really strong smell, I can pick it up.” Now there’s a giant hole where his right eye used to be. When he removes a dental plate, he can stick his finger in that eye socket and have it come out of his mouth.
Enduring Life-Altering Surgery
The radical surgery Owen underwent changed his appearance and abilities forever. Losing his right eye meant adapting to limited vision for the rest of his life. The removal of facial nerves and muscles also permanently affected his nasal functions. He was left with a sunken eye socket and had to rely on a dental plate.
Understandably, the dramatic changes significantly impacted Owen’s mental health and emotional state. His career as a mechanic ended due to safety concerns, a painful sacrifice. Owen’s family also struggled to cope with the uncertainty of his chance of survival.
During his recovery in the hospital, Owen had a profound spiritual experience. He felt an overwhelming sense of peace and comfort, which inspired him to recommit to his family. Owen resolved to embrace fatherhood and support his wife, determined to make the most of his second chance at life.
Discovering New Passions
After the surgery, Owen refused to let his altered appearance define him. He found a new sense of purpose in performing as a zombie actor and sideshow artist. Owen landed roles in music videos and films where his distinctive look was an asset. He also worked at haunted houses, including the Goretorium in Las Vegas.
According to Todd Ray, who runs the Venice Beach Freakshow, Owen was an inspiration to others for his strength and resilience. Rather than being self-conscious about his missing eye, Owen used it to entertain and share his story. His courage and optimism in the face of adversity were admirable.
Owen appreciated the attention and opportunities to open up about his journey. An appearance on the reality show “Freakshow” allowed him to reach wider audiences with his message of positivity. While Owen missed his mechanic work, he found new fulfilment in supporting his family financially through unique entertainment gigs.
Finding Purpose in Transformation
Billy Owen’s cancer story illustrates the resilience of the human spirit. Though the disease and surgery forever changed Owen physically, he refused to let it defeat him. By embracing new passions like zombie acting, Owen found self-confidence and purpose. He transformed hardship into an opportunity to inspire others facing major life challenges. Owen’s journey emphasizes the ability to reinvent oneself, even after profound loss. His unwavering positivity and commitment to family are a testament to finding light even in life’s darkest moments.
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