Standing On The Line: A Former Marine Survives Cancer

Former Patient and Gulf War Veteran Mark Brown.

When Mark Brown tells you his story, everything is laid bare. He’s vulnerable, detailed and actually quite matter-of-fact about how he wouldn’t be alive today if he hadn't walked into a Northwell Health hospital last November.

“I’ll be honest. The only reason why I’m sitting here today is because I went to LIJ Valley Stream,” Brown explained. Brown had a lot to say about Long Island Jewish Medical Center at Valley Stream , and the staff in the hospital’s 2 East Unit. He put his feelings into a thank you letter, which resulted in a brave and sobering tale that happens to be his life.

An excerpt from it reads: “I'm a former US Marine, a Gulf War veteran. I was misdiagnosed at another hospital three times. I was told I had GERD, IBS ... it wasn’t until I came to your hospital that I was given the proper tests and found out that I had stage 3B colon cancer. The personnel on the second floor saved my life.”

Brown is originally from London, England, but being an Englishman didn’t preclude him from serving in the United States military as a Marine. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t seem to hide behind anything, not even words. “When the corps goes out you know the Marines, we go first so we stand on the line,” he explained.

Indeed, Mr. Brown has 'stood on the line,' not just during his years in the Marines, but when he was forced to face cancer head on, after a hospital that he had been loyal to missed what was happening inside of his body.

“I went to the other hospital three times, twice to the emergency room, and all they did was throw acid pills at me and gas-suppressing pills. Nobody took the time out to give me the required tests,” he said. “To put it in a nutshell, LIJ Valley Stream saved my life.”

Ira Klonsky, MD, a general surgeon at LIJ Valley Stream, recalled his first encounter with Mr. Brown in the hospital’s emergency department. “He was pretty sick.  He required immediate hydration and a plan for the operating room. We suspected a large bowel obstruction. We proved it with a CT (computed tomography) scan. It was almost a complete obstruction that required surgery right away.”

“After the operation I remember Dr. Klonsky coming to speak to me. I asked him, 'Was it benign?' And he said to me the moment he saw it he knew it was cancer,“ Brown recalled. ”A numbness came over me. I just couldn’t believe what he had said to me. Cancer is a lonely place, one of the loneliest places I think a person could ever experience.”

His letter continues:

“I wish I could remember all the names ... the nurse who held my hand and dried my tears the day after I found out I had cancer. The nurse who cleaned me when I couldn’t help myself. The NA’s who brought me water to drink when I was thirsty. I remember the faces, but no longer the names all of them are my heroes. All of them stood on the line and made sure I was able to go home to my 5-year-old daughter.”

Mr. Brown's thank you letter was read to the entire hospital staff. But he also came back to LIJ Valley Stream this September in person to see Dr. Klonsky. This time Brown brought his daughter, Savannah, with him.

“This man saved my life,” Mr. Brown explained to Savannah, who is now six. She wrapped her arms around Dr. Klonsky and hugged him. 

“I’m humbled by his letter and his willingness to thank me for that,” said Dr. Klonsky. “It’s not common that a patient comes back to see you, or makes a special effort to come back and thank you, so this is a very special occasion.”

“As far as I’m concerned, the whole team on the 2 East wing will forever be my heroes. They will forever be with me wherever I go ... take it from me, an old Marine: You guys are fantastic. Thank you for saving my life.”