Aaron Martens was tired. Although he was in the best shape of his life, this particular morning felt different. It was early April and he was fishing the Alabama River with a couple of friends when he decided to lie down on the boat to take a nap, something he had never done before. That was the last thing he remembered when he woke up in the hospital with doctors telling him he needed emergency brain surgery. An MRI had uncovered two golf ball-size tumors in his brain, one near his temple and the other much deeper, adjacent to his brain stem.
“I guess there had been signs,” Martens, a three-time Bassmaster Angler of the Year, said. “In February I started experiencing weird sensations. I’d all of a sudden get really lightheaded, or I’d experience strange smells when there wasn’t anything to smell. I thought it was my allergies acting up.”
These strange sensations occurred again just as he was launching his boat in April with friends Robbie Stanford and Tucker Smith, a Bassmaster High School All-American. Stanford had some Flonase and gave it to Martens to help with the allergy issue. “I think that Flonase reacted with those tumors or something, because I sort of blacked out,” Martens explained. Once he asked to lie down, seizures overtook his body. Smith and Stanford took quick action. They immediately returned to the boat launch and headed to Martens’ house. When they were close, they called an ambulance to meet them. Martens was lying in the backseat and Smith was trying to keep Martens responsive.
“I don’t remember anything,” Martens said. “I was fishing … and the next thing I know a doctor was telling me that he was about to do surgery on my brain. It was surreal and scary.” To make matters worse, because of the COVID-19 restrictions, Leslie, his wife, could not see him. He was surrounded by strangers, staring at a dangerous surgery with no promises of a positive outcome.
“One of the nurses asked if she could pray with me. That helped so much. Then I prayed by myself. That’s all I had. But, that’s when God helps the most. When you are at your most vulnerable. When you are out of options.” When Martens woke up from his first surgery, the medical staff was ecstatic. “They said they got the entire first tumor, plus some additional brain matter around the tumor that could have held splinters of the cancer. It was incredible news.”
One tumor gone, one to go. The problem was, the surgeons thought the second would be inoperable because of how deeply it was embedded in his brain, near the stem. The tumor was sent for a biopsy. The news was bad, so they sent for a second opinion. It came back verifying that the cancer in his brain was glioblastoma (GBM), grade IV. This particular brand of cancer is extremely fast growing and difficult to contain.
“When I went back to the hospital for my checkup, the doctors were amazed at how well I had healed. They said my skull where they had sawed it open was already at original thickness. Because of the quick healing, they made the decision to operate and go after the second tumor. I was relieved. I wanted that thing out of my body.”
Miraculously, the second surgery went as well as the first. The entire tumor was removed, as well as additional brain matter that could have been polluted with tentacles of the GBM. Martens now has six weeks of aggressive chemotherapy to ensure the cancer has been destroyed, but he remains optimistic.
“When I woke up from that second surgery and Leslie showed me how many people had reached out with love and prayers, I was so humbled and thankful. I was in darkness, and people, through prayers and good wishes, brought me to the light. I believe I will beat this thing. I want to be an example to others who have to face this cancer so they know it can be defeated. I will fight for hope.”
Editor’s note: A GoFundMe page has been established for the Martens family. To donate, go to www.gofundme.com/f/aaron-martens-and-family.