Ray Marks reflective as he fights for his life

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – “It’s no picnic… It’s not pretty, but we have to go through it.”

This teacher and radio news man has been battling Leukemia since September, and is now slated for a January transplant.

Since his time as News Director at WGR Radio and WBEN Radio, Ray Marks (center, seated in the WGR Newsroom in the mid-1990s) has been teaching communications courses at St. Bonaventure, Buffalo State, and Medaille.(Buffalo Stories archives)

You may know him as Ray Marks, radio newsman. You may know him as Ray Markiewicz, professor and friend. But if you know Ray at all, you won’t be surprised to know that he’s come to deal with the overwhelming diagnosis of leukemia by wrestling the uncertainty of what’s to come into a long list of certainties to tackle one at a time.

“What a perspective, you know?”

Late last summer, Ray began to feel some unexplained weakness. A visit to the doctor quickly turned to a visit to Roswell Park Cancer Institute. After an especially painful bone marrow extraction, doctors were blunt and aggressive with their diagnosis and treatment plan. Get on board, or expect only a year to live.

1989, Buffalo Stories archives

That wasn’t easy to hear, but now since September, Ray’s endured round after round of chemotherapy, three shots in the stomach every time, along with blood and platelet transfusions as needed.

While painful and tiring, the course of treatment can only be temporary. The only hope of a cure is with a stem cell transplant.

Looking for Marrow Donors

1974, Buffalo Stories archives

Ray has siblings, but the fact that they are each over the age of 40, makes them ineligible as bone marrow donors. After going to the worldwide database, two donors have said they are willing to come forward to offer Ray his only chance at beating leukemia by allowing their stem cells to be harvested, flown Buffalo, and transplanted into Ray.

The surgery is planned for mid-January, and will likely be followed by a month long stay at Roswell Park, plus up to another 100 days of healing and convalescing at the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge. He’d prefer to get better at home, but for the Markiewicz family, home is in Angola, and doctors insist that a stem cell transplant patient be no more than 20 minutes from the hospital for fear of rejection.

“The way the doctor put it was, we want you here now if that happens,” said Markiewicz, who added that his home is a half-hour from downtown on a good day with no traffic.

“After all that, the hope is for a cure, but there’s no way to be sure,” Markiewicz said, quickly adding that he’s doing his best to remain hopeful. Any hope is better than the diagnosis of what was to come without the surgery. “She said I had one year to live without the surgery. We’re talking dying here.” The thought of possible pending death has given Ray plenty to reflect on.

“Realizing how terribly important to live life to the fullest. I don’t have any regret, but I appreciate everything I’ve experienced more. Why are we here? We live to make the world a better place,” said Markiewicz. “I want to continue to do that.”

He’s thought a lot about his nearly 40 years in broadcasting, and the great friends, co-workers, and friendly competitors he feels honored to have known, but his primary focus these days outside of health and family has been on his relatively new-found love of the classroom.

Through the treatments, Ray has continued to teach two fall semester classes at Medaille College. “I love teaching, it means a lot to me, and believe it or not, I feel better while I’m doing it. It’s been tough… It’s getting hard, but I thought, ‘I can do this,’ and I’m going to finish it. It’s helpful when the endorphins fly. I love it, and it helps keep me going.”

Helping Ray

With the hopes of raising both his spirits and some funds to help alleviate the financial burden of his treatment, the friends and family Ray Markiewicz have organized a benefit in his honor in January.

Whether you worked with Ray, were taught or mentored by him, listened to him on the radio, or are just willing to help out a fellow Western New Yorker who needs a hand, event planners are looking for raffle basket and special auction donations, folks willing to buy a ticket, or maybe just a donation.

The event is Saturday, January 11, 2014, from 1-6 at the Newell-Faulkner American Legion Post 880 in Eden. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for kids 10 and under.

Listen to a great newscast, which opens with Van Miller shouting “The Bills are in the Super Bowl!”

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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon is a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. The operator of Buffalo Stories Tours writes about the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo special at blog.buffalostories.com and daily at buffalonews.com/history. The storyteller and historian has written six books, worn bow ties since the 80s, and spent 20 years working in Buffalo radio and TV, climbing his way to news director at WBEN Radio. Since then, he's been an adjunct professor and produced PBS documentaries. Steve's Buffalo roots run deep: all eight of his great-grandparents called Buffalo home, with his first ancestors arriving here in 1827.