Featured – Mark’s Story
The past president of the Bikers Against Cancer coalition in Colorado admits it’s been a rocky medical and mental journey since he was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2012 at age 48.
Mark Montoya – Denver, CO
A soft-spoken man of few words, Mark Montoya of Denver can recite from memory the refrain to the popular song “I Hope I Made Them Proud,” about a soldier who came home from battle to fight a fiercer enemy – cancer.
The ballad by Shane Dawson urges patients: “You’ve got to fight this fight; You’ve got to live this life: one minute at a time. You’ve got to laugh; You’ve got to cry.” Mark, 52, admits he has had moments of tears, when he pushed his girlfriend away and refused to let anyone in – literally and emotionally.
The past president of the Bikers Against Cancer coalition in Colorado admits it’s been a rocky medical and mental journey since he was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2012 at age 48. Doctors discovered more than 200 polyps in his colon.
He had been suffering “side pain” that he mistook for appendicitis. He also recalls that in the ‘80s, he had noticed some blood in his stools, but “I didn’t pay much attention to it back then.” Ultimately, he was in so much pain he was laying on the couch and wouldn’t answer the door when his girlfriend knocked. When the pain became unbearable, he finally had his mom take him to the hospital.
Soon after arriving at the Franklin Medical Offices at Kaiser Permanente in downtown Denver, he asked the doctor when he could go home. The doctor replied, “You’re not going home. You’re going into emergency surgery.”
Surgeons removed his ascending colon on Sept. 25, 2012. His cancer was Stage 2, rapidly approaching Stage 3.
Doctors predicted that if he didn’t have the surgery, he would have three years to live.
“Here I am going on four years. I’m grateful I did it,” Mark said.
But it wasn’t easy.
“I woke up and saw the [colostomy] bag and looking at it, I cried. But I had to accept it. This is who I am. But at least I’m here.” Surgery was followed by six months of chemotherapy, every two weeks. He is thankful for the medical treatments he was given: the cancer has not spread.
The neuropathy was tough. His girlfriend, Desiree Wood, a home health aide, recalls that Mark could not hold anything cold in his hands, like water or a soda. The Denver air that winter was so biting, Mark often had to wear a surgical mask to protect his fragile lungs.
“It’s important for people to know that cancer is a fight, but with treatment it doesn’t have to be a death sentence,’’ said Mark, who works part time in an aluminum and die-casting shop and has a shirt that says simply “Cancer sucks.’’
Fortunately, hopeful stories such as Mark’s are becoming more common. There are more than 1 million colon cancer survivors living in the Unites States and the survival rate has been growing since the 1980s.
Mark now wants to be there for others. He and Desiree helped a 16-year-old teen diagnosed with colon cancer, who also has cerebral palsy. Working with Habitat for Humanity, their efforts assisted him in getting a new wheelchair and van. He is now 20.
Mark also is active in many support groups and mentors other survivors through Colon Cancer Survivors and Warriors and the Faces of Cancer.
Desiree said Mark has always been outgoing, but now he has a zest of life. He used to come home from work and then stay inside. “Now we do more things, even just go for a drive,” she said.
“I’ve met so many people going through cancer. It opened my eyes a lot,’’ Mark said. “I don’t have all the answers, but I think I can try to help other people.”
Mark understands after his ordeal just how much life means, how it can’t be taken for granted. And so does Desiree.
“We just wake up every morning, and we thank God we woke up,’’ Desiree said. “It’s another day of living and having our loved ones.”