Hello, my name is Kenneth Monarrez, and I am a cancer survivor. I would like to tell you a little bit about my story, my battle with cancer. This isn’t a sad story, this is one of perseverance, faith, but most of all the discovery of how incredibly important the work that NavigateCancer Foundation is doing every day.
On January 1st, 2013, I was diagnosed with stage 3 Kidney Cancer. I had a tumor the size of a racquet ball on my left kidney. My wife, Laureen, was 7 months pregnant at the time, and our son Miles was 2. For those of you that have battled cancer or other serious illnesses, when I say my world was shattered, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I’m a very focused and driven person, and this wasn’t part of the plan; it never is. The only thing I didn’t know how to do was ask for help. After much prodding from Laureen, I called the Livestrong Foundation, who put me in touch with Anna, an oncology nurse practitioner at NCF who ended up being there for me every step of the way. I didn’t know where to start, but I knew how to talk - so that’s what I did. For an hour and a half I talked about cancer like I had never heard about it, like it wasn’t real. I didn’t have a plan in place; I didn’t have a reason to feel OK.
It was on that call that I took control of my situation, my cancer and most importantly my life. Anna taught me that I should ask specific questions relevant to only me, she taught me what I needed to know about the disease, educated me about my pathology report and helped me create a framework to make decisions about my care. We worked on the why’s and how’s of getting a second opinion and relevant nutrition information. My NCF Nurse consultant helped me create my plan. Having a plan was the only thing that allowed me to focus on getting better. NCF gave me a voice in my own care, gave me hope, and most importantly the support and confidence that I could be a partner with my doctor, not just a patient.
Three weeks after my diagnosis, I had surgery to remove the tumor and my left kidney. I was walking 12 hours later, and ran a 5k race three weeks later. The first call I made when I got home from the hospital was to Anna, to tell her thank you, to tell her that we did it! In my darkest moment, NCF was a beacon for hope, a source for education and empowerment so that I could make the right critical healthcare decisions for myself and be there for Laureen, Miles, and our soon to be born baby girl. NCF helped me focus on the task at hand, understand my options and got me through my darkest hour.
I am healthier and stronger than ever now, and very grateful for the positive outcome I’ve had. It’s not lost on me that there are people diagnosed with different forms of cancer every single day. My personal mission is to help all those in need know that there is an incredible organization, NCF that is there to work with patients, families and caregivers to bring hope, compassion, and a plan to help people navigate one of the most challenging obstacles that they will ever face. I speak to Anna, my NCF nurse about once a month now- sometimes it’s just to say hello, but always after my follow ups. She tells me that I am an expert patient now because of everything I learned and how seamlessly I am able to communicate and interact with my doctors to get the help and information that I need to be a long term cancer survivor. My doctor always says that he is so thrilled to have a patient who has taken charge of his own healthcare I have voice, I am informed, I am in charge, but I’m also not alone.
My story of survival took an interesting turn about a month ago. My dad was diagnosed with stage 1 Kidney Cancer. I was just finishing a 10 mile race when I got the news. I called my wife Laureen to tell her, and the first thing she said was, ‘’OK, we’ve been here before, what’s the plan?’’ How amazing is that? We immediately knew what to do and how to help my Dad because we had the tools that NCF had given us. We were well prepared to ask the right questions, coordinate care, understand treatment options and be a good advocate for my Dad. Because of everything that we’ve been through, sure, we have plenty of reasons to be sad, confused, angry… So what did I do? I showed up to the hospital, took control of the situation, and took care of my Dad. Of course, the first person I called before I did that was my NCF nurse just to make sure I had looked at every angle. She said something to me that I’ll never forget: ‘’you’re in charge now, do what you know best, encourage the doctors to talk to each other, coordinate care and the treatment plan, do the same great things you did for yourself . I’m here for whatever you need.’’ My dad’s going to be just fine, Thank God. But now, it is my mission to help educate, inform, and empower other cancer patients like myself. Not only is there hope, but there is a brilliant light in that tunnel of darkness, It’s called NCF. As I see it, they’re not here just when you’re sick. They are there for every part of the ordeal you are facing. I’ve never met a more giving, compassionate and driven group of people. I’m lucky that my story has a happy ending- I’m humbled by all those that don’t have the same outcome. But NCF can help you find that voice, be that pillar, that light for you, your family, or any one you know who is fighting the good fight. They teach you about the disease, treatment options, help you learn about clinical trials, how to communicate effectively with your doctor, how to advocate for yourself. You don’t have to fight this fight alone, afraid and uninformed NCF is there for you too. And thanks to them, I can continue to be grateful, be driven, and be committed to make sure people everywhere know about this incredible organization. Thank you for letting me share my story. It isn’t lost on me that this is a unique opportunity for me to tell a story of survival, of faith and of resolve. I don’t know that I would have appreciated the gravity of the situation had I not been blessed with the help of NCF. The first question a lot of people ask after a diagnosis is where do I start? It’s a simple answer- NCF. Be informed. Be an expert patient. Beat cancer!
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