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Phoenix Forward

A true inspiration: Student continues education despite brain cancer

Ronald Monis

Life has never been the same for the upbeat, friendly, athletic Ronald Monis, after he went to the gym in May 2010.

“I was at the gym about to work out, and I smelled something funny,” says the 30-year-old Monis, a student at University of Phoenix. “That’s the last thing I remember. The next thing you know, I woke up in the hospital.”

Monis had a seizure at the gym, and was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. The diagnosis: Glioblastoma, or brain cancer, and he is in Stage 4, with a tumor the size of a baseball in his head.

Glioblastoma multiforme is an aggressive and malignant brain tumor in humans but is also very rare. Prognosis for patients with this type of cancer is poor, with median survival time being approximately 14 months, according to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

Following his diagnosis, Monis endured a difficult and immediate six-hour surgery at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Los Angeles, where he was half- awake. “I came out of the surgery room and I held my sister’s hand and I just wanted to die,” he says. “The pain was so excruciating.”

Surgery was followed by months of radiation and chemotherapy, in the hopes that they would kill any remnants of the cancer left in his brain following the surgery.

Throughout this difficult time, University of Phoenix sources say Monis remained positive and studious and engaging. His classmates did not know he was sick, though he confided in some staff members at the Southern California Campus in Culver City. “You would never assume he had anything like that going on in his life,” says Joy Everett, student resource advisor at the Southern California Campus. “He was living every day to the fullest, and being as positive as he could.”

I feel like I have a time bomb in my head.

Monis is currently studying for his bachelor’s degree in Business Management. He started his coursework in January 2010 in the Los Angeles area but in March this year transferred to Palm Beach, Fla., to be closer to his family during this difficult time. The staff at the Culver City location threw him a going-away party when he left.

Monis only takes one class at a time and can’t spend much time on the computer due to headaches and vision issues, but he still maintains a good grade point average, sources say.

“I feel like I have a time bomb in my head,” he says. “I’m focused on getting my bachelor’s degree soon but taking one class for five weeks because I’m told by the doctors not to put too much stress on me.” He hopes to graduate in May 2012.

This change in life for Monis came unexpectedly. Born and raised in Haiti, he moved to the United States 12 years ago, eventually joining the U.S. Navy for eight years where he travelled the world, including Japan, Korea and Italy. When he was diagnosed, he had no idea anything was wrong except for enduring a few headaches now and then.

His medical bills are paid 100 percent due to his time in the Navy.

Following his surgery, he has lost about 30 pounds, goes to numerous doctors’ appointments weekly, and currently takes about 16 pills daily. “I can’t run right now,” he says. “I feel that something is shaking in my head. I cannot do a lot of physical activity.” Monis says he wants to continue his studies as it offers a distraction to what he is going through.

So he spends his time studying for his class, reading, playing with nieces and talking to friends. In July, he plans a trip to Italy and Malta to see friends. He also drives a Maserati Quattraporte, an expensive car that he bought for himself for his birthday. “I used to have a BMW,” he says today.

This month, Monis received an unwelcome call from his doctors. The tumor has returned. He now possibly faces another excruciating surgery and more chemotherapy and radiation. The prognosis is not good.

Still, those who know Monis are inspired by his positive attitude and spirit, and his willingness to live life to the fullest, to not waste time, to do what he thinks is important and to be happy with those around him.

“He hasn’t dropped any classes,” says Yvette Stott, enrollment representative at the Culver City Campus. “He truly does represent what it means to be a Phoenix. He’s very determined to do well in school.”


Update from the editors:

Ronald Monis passed away on October 15, 2011. His positive attitude and determination to finish his degree despite his illness continue to inspire others to see their own academic journeys through — no matter the obstacles.