This Man Lost An Eye To Cancer – So He Reinvented Himself As A Professional Zombie

Published May 4, 2018

"I felt something rubbing my hand, like the presence of God. I felt a sense of peace like everything was going to be OK."

Billy Owen

Billy Owen, cancer survivor

Billy Owen can put his finger in his mouth and poke it out of his eye socket. It’s not something he was born with, but it’s something he’s embraced. And why wouldn’t he when his other option was death?

Billy Owen Gets A Life-Threatening Diagnosis

In 2009 Owen was a happy motorcycle mechanic, married with a six-month-old son, living in Oklahoma. But his life would soon take a drastic turn after being diagnosed with nasal cancer.

“I had headaches and I couldn’t breathe because my right nostril was totally plugged,” Owen told Huffington Post Owen. The doctors initially thought it was sinusitis, a very common and treatable condition where the naval passage cavities become inflamed. They gave him decongestants, but were ineffective.

“My wife finally pushed me to see a specialist,” he said.

On Feb. 13, 2009, Owen was diagnosed with sinonasal undifferentiated carcinoma, which is a rare form of cancer in the nasal cavity. By the time Billy Owen’s cancer was diagnosed, it had spread so dramatically that he was given just a 10 percent chance of survival.

Most survivors of cancer have the tumors removed early on. But because of Owen’s late diagnosis, the doctors had to remove half of his face for him to have any chance of survival. This in includes his right eye as well as the nerves and muscles from his face an in his nasal cavity.

Billy Owen was left with very little sense of smell, a dental plate, and a gaping hole where his eye used to be. But he beat the odds and the cancer.

Survival, But At A Price

Of course, the condition he was left in made it nearly impossible for him to resume life as usual. He had to quit his job as a mechanic because of the potential safety risk it could pose to customers. “I can do it for me, but if another person dies because I didn’t see a loose bolt, I don’t know what I’d do,” said Owen. There was also the trauma that his wife and son went through wondering whether Owen would live or die, and watching him going through such major operations.

Owen Billy


Owen went through a hard time while recuperating in the hospital after his surgery. But then, he said, “I felt something rubbing my hand, like the presence of God. I felt a sense of peace like everything was going to be OK.”

Before his cancer, Owen said that he was living a wild and crazy life that included a lot of drinking. After, he noted that his son was the only one didn’t look at him differently. Reflecting on his family, he made the decision to do all he could to be there for them both physically and mentally.

Such a drastic life change can feel death like in its own way. But instead of wallowing, Owen decided to embrace it.

A Positive Outlook And (Mostly) Happy Ending

He decided to show off the results of his operation, picking up jobs that included playing a zombie in music videos and films, performing at haunted houses, telling his story at the Venice Beach Freakshow in Los Angeles where his story of bravery and positive thinking inspired the audience.

While there’s an undeniable shock factor that comes with Owen’s missing eye, Todd Ray, who ran the AMC series Freakshow said he thinks of Owen as the strongest man alive. Though people may be initially drawn in by the fact that you can see into his skull, after hearing his story audiences are genuinely amazed.

As for Owen, his positive message isn’t just an act. He has said that his brush with death and his post-cancer life has brought him closer to his family.

Billy Owen has cited one downside to his missing eye: a phantom itch in the space where it used to be.

“It’s tough when you get an itch in the corner of your eye and there’s nothing to scratch.”

if you found this article interesting, you may want to read about terminal cancer patient who saw total remission after a single new treatment. Then check out these five amazing survival stories.

Kara Goldfarb
Kara Goldfarb is a writer living in New York City.