Connect with us!


Cancer survivor Mark Harmon – ‘You gotta think BIG, dream BIG’

Mark Harmon now

Mark Harmon as a healthy 30-year-old, 19 years after being declared cancer-free. (Photo by Liz Johnson)

The first thing you notice about Mark Harmon is how easy it is to talk to him. He’s quiet, unassuming, unfailingly polite and charming – with a quick wit that means laughter is definitely a part of any conversation.

What most people don’t realize upon meeting Harmon is that he is a cancer survivor, whose main goal in life is to give back to those who gave so much to him.

“I got lucky,” said Harmon, “There’s a lot of little kids who didn’t. I feel like I owe a lot of people for it.”

Harmon was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) on Oct. 4, 1983, just one month shy of his third birthday.

ALL is cancer of the white blood cells, where malignant, immature white blood cells continuously multiply and are overproduced in the bone marrow. Forty years ago the survival rate for a child with ALL was zero. Now, according to the American Cancer Society, the survival rate is around 30 to 40 percent. Mark Harmon is one of the lucky ones.

The youngest of Excelsior Springs natives, Bob and Judy Harmon’s three children, Mark’s condition shook the family to the core – their lives changing in one, heartbreaking diagnosis.

Harmon was put on the first of three and one-half years of chemotherapy. By November, his cancer was in remission, but because his immune system was low, he developed internal bleeding caused by a yeast infection that was difficult to pinpoint as it wasn’t in the usual location of the mouth. Spots had popped out on his skin and were biopsied. He was placed in the ICU in mid-November. The doctors performed exploratory surgery in his abdomen, but the bleeding was widespread and there was nothing they could do.

The situation became worse when his abdomen swelled and the incision split open – he was placed on a ventilator. The doctor closed his abdomen and began trying different therapies to stop the internal bleeding. They even combined medicines and made new ones in an effort to stop the bleeding, which finally stopped on its own. One of those medicines caused a fever that ran at 105 degrees for about a year.

While he was in the ICU, he became immune to the donor platelet and white blood cells and needed numerous blood transfusions. The problems kept coming – Harmon then developed yeast infections in his heart and esophagus.

“My sister and I were pulled out of school a few times because they thought my brother wasn’t going to make it,” said Rob Harmon, Mark’s older brother. “It was tough,” he added.

“I was given last rites at least once,” said Mark, who doesn’t remember much about that time.

He was in the hospital until the end of March 1984 and returned a few times for numerous shorter stays. In addition to the other health issues, Harmon’s liver and spleen were very enlarged.

“When they finally got smaller,” said Judy Harmon, “we had a big ‘My liver and spleen are getting smaller’ party.”

When Mark was 6, someone referred him to the Dream Factory. He had a lifelong dream to meet Royals superstar George Brett.

“I wanted to meet George Brett,” said Harmon. “He’s my hero.”

The Dream Factory is a nationwide organization whose mission is to “grant dreams to critically and chronically ill children from the ages of 3 through 18.”

In September of 1988, Mark and his family were treated like royalty by the Royals and George Brett. Mark was able to meet Brett before the game, watch batting practice, and the entire family enjoyed a full dinner at the Stadium Club restaurant. They were presented with athletic bags stuffed with Royals souvenir items that included a jersey, batting helmet and two baseballs, one autographed by Brett himself. These were souvenirs that are keepers.

On Saturday, Nov. 19, Anytime Fitness sponsored its first 5K Run/2 Mile Walk in Richmond, with proceeds benefitting the Richmond Chamber of Commerce. While this was the first turkey trot, future fundraisers are coming. The November run/walk was a trial run for what Harmon hopes will become a larger event to fully benefit the Dream Factory.

This new event is in the planning stages for March 31, 2012 – another Turkey Trot 5K/2 Mile Run. Harmon is hoping that this event will take place here in Excelsior Springs, possibly at Tiger Stadium where participants will have an easier place to walk/run in. He is working with the Dream Factory to make this event happen, with all proceeds expected to benefit the organization through volunteering and charitable donations.

“Life has a funny way of repeating itself,” he said. “It’s my role in life to give back. We don’t live in a vacuum – our responsibility is to everyone in our lives. I was fortunate and I’m a big believer in positive thinking.”

To volunteer, donate or work with the Dream Factory, visit: or call Mark Harmon at 816-405-3856

By Liz Johnson •

Get ALL the local news. Click here and subscribe to our online e-Editions!

6 Responses to Cancer survivor Mark Harmon – ‘You gotta think BIG, dream BIG’

  1. Sam Reply

    December 2, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    God couldn’t have saved a nicer person. He has a very good outlook on everything and that has brought him success in business and life.

  2. Kelly Adair Reply

    December 4, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    I am so proud to be able to call this young man my Brother! He truely has an amazing story that needs to be shared with the community. Good luck and God Bless you in all that you do, Little Brother!!!

  3. Bill Downs Reply

    December 5, 2011 at 10:20 am

    Mark is an inspiration to everyone he comes in contact with. Proud to call him a friend.

  4. Mark Hill Reply

    September 23, 2015 at 11:33 am

    Oh hey man, I hope I’m a cancer suvivor as well. I used to strongly dislike NCIS but I just started watching and really like it. I didn’t realise you were a producer and saw your name in the credits. I also saw it on another thing with the Melissa Hartigay and that dude umm dang, can’t think of his name quickly. I had throat cancer from smoking. Not glamorous as I should’ve known better but got hooked. I still try to help others and preach when I see someone smoking. It’s been 3.5 years since my laryngectomy and no sign of it returning. If I were Michael Douglas I think I’d have given it the smell test before I ate it if he says he got it from oral sex. Ha Ha GEEZE, you’re an inspiration and I wish I could do as much as you have to help others. Later

  5. Maureen Haggerty Reply

    September 25, 2015 at 12:16 am

    My grandson, Paul, had ALL too. He was diagnosed at 2.5 years old in 1985. He was on chemo for a year, in remission for a year, then the cancer came back. So, off to Seattle, from Denver, for a bone marrow transplant, including 1 week of full body radiation to destroy his own bone marrow, before they replaced it with his 7 year old sister’s donated bone marrow. 1 year later, they found cancer in his testicles, so they gave him spot radiation to kill that, but the spot radiation caused a repeat of the cancer, so at 14, he lost his testicles. Then, a year later, when persistent the leukemia came back again, he started a more agressive form of chemo, but that caused seizures and strokes,so he had to stop the chemo. The doctors said he just couldn’t take the chemo any more, and the cancer would probably come back soon. That was 16 years ago, and, though the cancer hasn’t come back, he has many other problems. He still has seizures, he is diabetic, debilitating arthritis, no short-term memory, he is an alcoholic, and has been alcohol-free for over 5 years now, is less than 5′ tall, weighs less than 90 lbs., and has the body of a 90 year old, according to one of his doctors. He is an awesome, 32 year old man, and his family thanks God for every day that we are blessed to have such a gift as he is, as I am sure Mark Harmon’s family does, too.

  6. Jimmy G Reply

    November 15, 2016 at 9:51 pm

    Great dream my friend David Nenelka always said dream big. What a great thing you are doing Mark Harmon, keep up the great work

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *