When Boredom Strikes

Inspirational Journey of Billy Owen From Cancer Patient to Zombie Actor

A man called Billy Owen lost an eye and half of his face to cancer and used it to start a career as a zombie actor.

When Billy Owen was diagnosed in 2009 with a rare and fatal cancer that affected his nasal cavity, his life took an unexpected turn. Surgeons had to remove half of his face, including his right eye, due to the disease. Owen’s journey of resilience began with this life-changing incident, which inspired him to pursue new passions and discover a deeper sense of fulfillment in serving others.

Billy Owen’s life took an unexpected turn in 2009 when he was diagnosed with a rare and deadly cancer affecting his nasal cavity. Photo credit: bugged space

A devastating diagnosis to face

Billy Owen, a 39-year-old motorcycle mechanic, lived in Oklahoma in 2009 with his spouse and infant son. He appeared to be in his prime at the age of just 39. But Owen had a blocked nose, which caused him to have severe headaches and vision problems. At first, doctors wrote off Owen’s issues as sinusitis, but after a while, specialists diagnosed him with sinonasal undifferentiated carcinoma (SNUC), a very rare cancer of the nasal cavity with a mere 10% chance of survival.

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. Photo credit: bugged space

Owen had a dismal prognosis because the cancer had progressed dangerously. His chances of survival, according to doctors, were only 10%. Surgeons had to remove half of Owen’s face, including his right eye, facial nerves, and muscles in his nasal cavity, in order to have any chance of saving his life.

Owen puts it this way: “My sense of smell is pretty much gone.” There’s a huge hole where his right eye used to be, and I can smell it if it’s really strong. He can insert his finger in that eye socket and have it come out of his mouth when he removes a dental plate.

What is Sinonasal undifferentiated carcinoma (SNUC)?

A very uncommon kind of cancer that begins in the paranasal sinuses or nasal cavity is called sinonasal undifferentiated carcinoma (SNUC). The area behind the nose where air travels before entering the throat is called the nasal cavity. The pockets of air surrounding the nasal cavity are called paranasal sinuses. The reason SNUC is termed “undifferentiated” is that, when examined under a microscope, the cancer cells do not resemble normal cells.

Compared to other kinds of nasal and sinus cancers, they grow faster and are more aggressive. As it grows, SNUC can obstruct sinuses or airways and erode surrounding bone or tissue.  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.

Getting Through Life-Changing Surgery

Owen’s drastic surgery permanently altered his appearance and functional abilities. After losing his right eye, he had to live with limited vision for the remainder of his days. His nasal functions were also irreversibly impacted by the loss of his facial muscles and nerves. He was forced to use a dental plate and was left with a sunken eye socket.

Photo credit: bugged space

Understandably, Owen‘s emotional and mental well-being were greatly affected by the abrupt changes. Safety concerns forced him to give up his mechanic career, which was a costly sacrifice. Owen’s family also found it difficult to deal with the unpredictability of his survival.

Owen experienced a profound spiritual awakening while he was in the hospital getting better. He was overcome with a deep sense of comfort and serenity, which motivated him to make a new commitment to his family. In an effort to maximize his second opportunity at life, Owen made the decision to support his wife and accept fatherhood.

Finding New Interests

Owen resisted allowing his new look to define him after the procedure. Acting as a zombie and sideshow performer gave him a new lease on life. Owen was able to get parts in movies and music videos where his unique appearance helped him. In addition, he worked at Las Vegas’s Goretorium and other haunted houses.

BILLY OWEN IN 2020. Photo credit: bugged space

Todd Ray, the owner of the Venice Beach Freakshow, claims that Owen’s tenacity and fortitude served as an example for others. Owen didn’t let his missing eye bother him; instead, he used it to entertain and tell his story. It was impressive how brave and upbeat he was in the face of difficulty.

Owen was grateful for the attention and chances to share details of his journey. His message of positivity was able to reach a wider audience when he made an appearance on the reality show “Freakshow.” Owen found new fulfillment in providing for his family financially through odd entertainment gigs, even though he missed his work as a mechanic.

Discovering Meaning in Change

Billy Owen’s cancer narrative demonstrates the human spirit’s tenacity. Even though Owen’s body was permanently altered by the illness and surgery, he didn’t allow it to stop him. Owen gained self-assurance and a sense of direction by pursuing new interests like zombie performing. He turned adversity into a chance to motivate others going through difficult times in life. Owen’s journey highlights how one can reinvent themselves even in the wake of significant loss. His steadfast optimism and dedication to his family serve as an example of how to find hope even in the most difficult times in life.

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