5. Martin Bailey on Surviving a Brain Tumour with Optimism

Martin Bailey shares his extraordinary story of recovering from a brain tumour, optimism and achieving your dreams.


Near-Death Experience

Martin was in Antarctica on a boat when he felt a popping sensation in his head. It happened several times, and the ship doctor asked him if he had hit his head.

The fits had stopped on the journey home but began two months after.

His wife and his brother were very supportive.

The neurosurgeon, Dr. Joki, means always happy in English. He thought it was a brilliant name!

They went in through his nose, but he had a plate in his nose cartilage from when he broke it as a child. They couldn’t get the apparatus in, so they had to take it out, straighten the bone, make a passage, and punch a hole in his skull.

One afternoon Dr. Joki was in his room, his brother joked that Martin was the clever one in the family, and for 20 minutes they joked back and forth about who was the clever one.  Then they laughed because this conversation was in front of a brain surgeon!!

Then he prepared himself for the surgery mentally. When he heard about all the risks of the surgery, he did start to become concerned. He had a risk of becoming blind or paralyzed. The doctor had lost a patient earlier from the same type of tumour.

Martin’s tumour was benign, so he didn’t have to go through cancer treatment.

He never had a will; one of his most emotional moments was when he spoke his will in English and Japanese on a recording. 

He wrote it out and had his brother and his wife sign and witnesses it as well.

The first time he cried was partly through fear but was when he realized he had not been to Africa yet. He had a bucket list, and never realized he may not be able to complete it.

He had not stood on the red soil of Africa and looked out across the Savanna.

When they went into the surgery they asked him what type of music he wanted to listen to. He doesn’t remember what they played, then they did the countdown, and he was asleep.

When he woke up, the doctor said he was sorry. Martin moved his fingers and toes to make sure he wasn’t paralyzed. He could move his fingers and toes and told the doctor not to worry.

Then they told him, 5 1/2 hours into the surgery, he was bleeding really badly. They couldn’t get it all out and if he lost any more blood, he would have needed a blood transfusion. If they kept trying to get the cyst out, they may have blinded or paralyzed him.

Martin asked what the next course of action was. They told him medication should get rid of the rest. It was almost golf ball size, after 3 months it was the size of a baby’s finger, then after 6 months, it disappeared.

There is still a tiny bit of the tumour left, the medication keeps his prolactin countdown, (prolactin caused the tumour), so it is not growing anymore. Martin worries a little but has decided not to let it worry him and live life as it never will.

After and beyond

He went to Africa on a tour with a friend. He did an Iceland tour, with a German friend who lives in Iceland. A year after he made two of his bucket list ideas.

It has not slowed him down and probably made him stronger. I think Martin is very positive and strong. He calls himself an eternal optimist.

He still gets anxious, when he has his yearly checkups until he sees that there is nothing there. But he tries to stay positive.

Rather than changing him, this experience just gave him a deeper appreciation of life.  The fact that we are here at this present time is a miracle in itself.


There is a huge gap between the wealthy and the poor. He found the poor seem to be the happiest there.

When people try to get money from you and you don’t buy they say rude things, such as get out of my country.

One group lives in mud huts, a highly structured community, and they almost don’t believe in money. When they pay the tour guide, some of the money goes to the head of the tribe.

Aside from needing money to take their children to the hospital, they don’t need it. They don’t bath, they purify themselves by bathing in smoke, and the woman smears their skin with a reddish paste, to keep the bugs off.

These people seem to be happiest. Martin doesn’t believe possessions are what keeps us happiest. It put things into perspective.

Once you get the red dust of Africa into your skin, it is really hard to stay away. He booked his next trip shortly after getting home.

He has been to Antarctica three times. He prefers the cold. It is a beautiful place.

He put together a cd of all his travel for the doctor that saved his life. Without him, he never would have seen these places. He also credits his friend from Australia for encouraging him to seek medical help.

His friend’s wife had cancer. Martin felt very bad for them and tells me it is really hard watching someone you care about losing someone close to them. She made it through and is doing quite well today.

It gives you an appreciation for the frailty that exists in life. He has become more receptive to the suffering of others.

Photo Walks and Podcast

Martin has a podcast and a blog. He is very open about everything that happened.

He also puts on photo walks.

He gets emails all the time about how they are inspired by his work, but he is really touched by the people who tell him he has affected their lives.


Martin didn’t read any books to get through. He has been confident in his own outlook, he never feels like he needs to look elsewhere for help. (he jokes perhaps to his detriment) Since then, a friend of his wrote a book called   A Beautiful Anarchy, by David Duchemin  He thinks this book would have blown his mind had he read it at the time he went through it.

Martin interviewed David on his podcast, I loved it!   http://www.martinbaileyphotography.com/2014/06/03/a-beautiful-anarchy-with-david-duchemin-podcast-424/

Parting Advice

Martin is not sure he is qualified to offer it. From his own experience, things can get scary at times. He feels he was in a situation he could have died, but he didn’t see it as a near-death experience.

Stay open to the fact, if something is going to go wrong, it is probably going to go wrong anyway. He believes in fate, there is something that guides our time here.

If your time is up then you will move on to the next phase. If it’s not your time, then learn from the experience and let it make you stronger. Live as good a life as you can, life is very frail and you never know when it is going to be snatched away from you.