Cancer patient becomes U.S. Marine

When Esra D. Mullner was taken to a doctor for consistent back pain he had no idea doctors would find a tumor in his spine.
At the time, he was just 11 years old and doctors advised against the surgery because of the high risk and low success rate of the procedure.

“I remember my mom told me and at the time I didn’t understand what a tumor was,” said Mullner. “I just remember my mom was mad that the neurosurgeon was going on vacation right after he told us that. That’s how I knew it was bad.”

Recruit Mullner, Platoon 3269, Mike Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, said doctors told him that if they were able to remove 80 percent of the tumor he would have a 50 percent survival rate.

Unfortunately over the next few months the tumor grew larger causing periods of paralysis, leaving no choice for doctors but to perform the procedure. He was told due to the tumors rapid growth, the surgery was needed to save his life.

Mullner said he had three incidents where he became paralyzed from the waist down for 30 minutes to an hour and would awake in the night screaming and crying from the back pain.

Doctors told him the tumor had grown into his spinal nerves, which was why he was getting paralyzed and receiving intense pain.

“It felt like needles coming from inside my back pushing outward,” said Mullner,” a Boise, Idaho native.

A seven-hour surgery was for the most part a success. But a minor graze of a spinal nerve during the operation left him without feeling in three fingers in his right hand.

“It’s just a reminder of what I’ve been through,” said Mullner with a nonchalant shrug.

Prior to the diagnosed tumor, Mullner explained becoming a Marine had become a dream after being inspired by Marine recruiting posters posted on walls near his wrestling gym.

“I saw those posters three days a week on my way to practice,” said Mullner. “And one day I just knew I wanted to be like those men in the posters. From then on I knew it was what I wanted to do.”

That dream didn’t vanish because of his tumor, and post-surgery he spoke with a recruiter about his chances of enlisting.

“He told me I would have to be cleared for contact sports,” said Mullner. “But with part of the tumor still in my spine, I couldn’t.”

Mullner said he would routinely receive Magnetic Resonance Imaging to check the status of the tumor and while there, would ask to be cleared for contact sports every doctor’s visit.

“One day in 10th grade, I went in and the doctors told me the tumor was gone. It had just disappeared! It was a miracle,” said Mullner. “It was the happiest day of my life because it meant I could play sports and fulfill my dream of joining the Marine Corps.”

Following high school Mullner waited numerous months for medical waivers before finally being accepted into recruit training. His wait and efforts paid off, and he is now currently two weeks away from graduating.

Fellow platoon member and rack mate declared he was inspired by Mullners story of perseverance.

“It takes a person with determination, commitment and a strong mindset, knowing there was a possibility that his effort to join the Corps could have been in vain,” said Recruit Miguel E. Ramirez. “I’m proud of him having the will to stick with his dream of joining despite people telling him he couldn’t do it.”