BY ANGELA MATUA
Cancer survivors and their families on Saturday celebrated life during the ninth-annual Don Monti Cancer Survivors Day at the Monter Cancer Center in New Hyde Park.
Former patients of the North-Shore Long Island Jewish Medical Center were treated to lunch, dancing and a chance to share stories of survival.
The event was inspired by Don Monti, the son of Joseph and Tita Monti, who died of myeloblastic leukemia at just 16. His family dedicated their lives to founding an organization to find a cure for cancer.
His sister Caroline Monti-Saladino, the president of the Don Monti Memorial Research Foundation and recipient of the Compassionate Care Award said this day was established as a way to extend Don Monti’s life.
“Mom would say in every patient’s eyes she would see her son and in every survivor’s eyes she would see his life extended,” Monti-Saladino said.
Moeen Ahmed — a Jamaica resident who is currently in remission from multiple myeloma, a cancer that affects white blood cells — attended the event with his wife. Ahmed said this day is important to inspire those who are currently dealing with cancer.
“One of the major reasons [this event is important is] cancer patients are not alone. He has a lot of people around and if you see a person who has the same disease or similar disease, you exchange views with each other and the newcomers I have seen, they are very upset with this disease. But if the people who have survived for a longer period, if they share their experience with them I can tell you, they feel very good and they feel very encouraged.”
Ahmed was diagnosed in May 2011 and eventually had to receive a bone marrow transplant. He said it took him about a year to feel like his normal self after the surgery.
Mark Herzlich, a linebacker for the New York Giants, was the keynote speaker and outlined his battle with Ewing’s sarcoma, a bone cancer that affects children and adolescents.
Herzlich was 21 and playing football as a junior at Boston College when he suffered from pain in his left leg but continued to play football and go to practices. The pain became so unbearable that he eventually visited a doctor who told him he needed to visit an oncologist.
After being diagnosed with cancer, doctors told Herzlich that he would never play football again and might possibly have to use a cane to walk. Instead of going through surgery to remove a portion of his thigh bone, he decided to take a less traditional route and go through aggressive sessions of radiation and chemotherapy.
Herzlich said three words from his father encouraged his journey to recovery: “Let’s do this.”
“He said the three most important words that anyone has ever said to me throughout my whole treatment, my childhood and up until now,” Herzlich said. “When you’re diagnosed you lose your identity but when someone says let’s do this, they have created a bond.”