Among the heroes during Hurricane Harvey was Houston police officer Norbert Ramon, a 24-year veteran of the department who helped rescue 1,500 Houstonians while fighting stage four colon cancer.
“My main concern was to help the citizens,” said Ramon, 55. Nothing else was on my mind. I didn’t worry about me or anything.”
“I don’t dwell on it. I don’t like to let people know because I like to be treated equal.”
Harvey might have been his finest hour, colleagues said.
“It was desperate. I mean you’ve never seen so much water before,” added the senior police officer.
Ramon is assigned to the Traffic Enforcement division downtown, but couldn’t get there when the flash floods began last Sunday morning. So, following department protocol, Ramon instead responded to the closest duty station, which was HPD’s Lake Patrol Unit on Lake Houston near Atascocita.
Between Sunday and Tuesday, Ramon and other officers used four police boats to move more than 1,500 Houstonians out of the flash floods that submerged neighborhoods near Interstate 10 and Federal Road, along with subdivisions in Kingwood.
“They’d have the kids in blankets and stuff. I’m picking them up and putting them in the boat, trying to put their umbrellas on,” Ramon explained. “Then my partner is trying to drive the boat. He’s got all these umbrellas [blocking his field of view on the water]. We’ve got to tell them ‘Hey you gotta close those down. You’re going to get wet. The kids are going to get wet but he needs to see.’”
“That’s probably one of the best times he’s had since his diagnosis,” said Sgt. Epi Garza, Houston Police, a long-time friend who is also in charge of the Lake Patrol Unit. “His whole mind was occupied on helping people and rescuing lives that day.”
Ramon is soft-spoken, modest and doesn’t reveal much about his medical condition.
“I’m diagnosed with stage four colon cancer which has spread to my liver and my lungs” he said.
That revelation came 18 months ago during a routine colonoscopy. At the time, he said, doctors told him he might have six to eight years to live.
“You know, I don’t ask that anymore,” said Ramon when asked whether that prognosis has changed recently.
Ramon admitted he doesn’t want to know.
“No I really don’t,” continued Ramon. “We all gotta go sometime. I don’t want to have a time stamp on me.”
After three days on a rescue boat last week, Ramon drove eight hours to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America clinic in Tulsa for chemotherapy. He usually flies to Oklahoma but Houston’s two airports were closed.
“I don’t worry so much about me. I worry about my wife. She takes it hard. When she takes it hard then I break down,” said Ramon.
He doesn’t dwell on it and is not looking for sympathy, but Ramon is a clear example of courage in this city; a cop with cancer, saving lives while losing his own.
“I put it past me. Once I’m done with my chemo, I’m just plugging away like I don’t even have it. I don’t research it. Because if you research it, it’s doom and gloom all on the internet,” he said.
“As long as I put out a message for other cancer patients to [not] let this hold you down. ‘Just continue to go, plugging away and be happy. Don’t let it consume your life.’”