Martin Romero Sanchez and Karma Punwasi of Houston were newly married, had just bought their first home and were planning on starting a family when Martin’s health started to decline. For about six months, he suffered from persistent headaches, and Karma began to notice changes in his behavior. He was often late for engagements and lost interest in activities he once enjoyed. After several doctor’s appointments, a CT scan revealed a swelling in his brain and surgery confirmed that he had glioblastoma (GBM).
They soon learned the challenges of living with an aggressive brain tumor and worked to define a “new normal.” Their priorities changed, and they redefined their purposes in life. Martin, who worked as an engineer before his diagnosis, said he refused to allow cancer to break his spirit.
“Martin naturally exudes positivity,” Karma said. “Not everyone is this positive in the light of a brain cancer diagnosis or has the capacity to do so.”
The couple started connecting with other brain cancer survivors and caregivers, along with young adults affected by cancer. They found it helpful to engage with others who were in similar circumstances and to share their own story. They realized they weren’t alone.
“My friends will try to understand. My parents will do their best to understand, but nobody understands it until it’s their issue,” Martin said. “For that, a support group just works wonderfully. It’s a sense of belonging.”
Martin and Karma, both 33, attend two support groups, one for brain cancer survivors and another for young adults affected by cancer. Karma said young adults face unique issues when dealing with a cancer diagnosis, such as whether to have children. They’re also active advocates.
My friends will try to understand. My parents will do their best to understand, but nobody understands it until it’s their issue. For that, a support group just works wonderfully. It’s a sense of belonging.
In 2015, Martin spoke at the American Brain Tumor Association’s (ABTA) Breakthrough for Brain Tumors 5K in Dallas, and Karma shared her caregiver perspective at a fundraiser for a local advocacy group. In 2016, the couple attended CancerCon in Denver, an oncology conference and social networking event for young adults affected by cancer, and volunteered at the ABTA’s conference in Chicago.
Karma said they aim to strike a balance – juggling life’s responsibilities along with Martin’s GBM – and try to ensure that living a new normal doesn’t mean missing out on many things they enjoy in life. The couple, who met on an airplane on Valentine’s Day, travel often. They went on a Mediterranean cruise in 2014 from Venice, Italy, to Toulon, France, and to visit Martin’s family in Argentina for the holidays in 2015. In April, they attended their friends’ wedding in Mexico. Karma enjoys traveling because it helps her disconnect from the stresses of day-to-day life, and Martin likes exploring new places with Karma.
“Traveling with Karma is a lot of fun,” he said. “She has these brand new eyes to everything.”
Although Martin’s GBM diagnosis requires that they remain flexible, the couple said, they continue to make plans to move their life forward.
“We try not to let cancer stop us from living,” Martin said.
The health status of patients featured reflects their condition at the time the photographs were taken and may have changed over time.