Cancer survivor advises, ‘Keep celebrating your life’

Lithonia resident Mona Reynolds said this holiday season she received the best Christmas present ever—her life. Reynolds reports that she is doing well after successful treatment for neuroendocrine cancer.

In spring of 2019, Reynolds was excitedly preparing for a new job in human resources with DeKalb County School District after working in school systems in more rural areas. While she looked forward to working in a culturally stimulating community, there was a lot to do as she prepared for the move, Reynolds said.

“I started having indigestion a lot, but I attributed it to the stress of changing jobs, moving and all the other things that were going on in my life,” she recalled. “I was thrilled with the move I was making, but it was still stressful. When the indigestion persisted, I decided that I should see a doctor.”

After an ultrasound test, Reynolds was given medication; however, after a year her symptoms returned. “I took the medicine and changed my diet, which helped, but the indigestion kept coming back,” she said.

She decided to do what she had neglected to do because of her busy schedule—she read the test results carefully. “I was shocked that the test showed a 1.7-millimeter tumor in my pancreas and another in my small intestine.” Reynolds, who has been a teacher, an assistant principal, and a principal remembered thinking, “Being thorough and detailed is something I have focused on throughout my career, and here I was dealing with something far more important—my health—and I had overlooked something very important.”

She said she feels God arranged the move to the metro Atlanta area where she had a wider range of medical treatment options. She went to Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Atlanta, for a second opinion. There she was diagnosed with multifocal neuroendocrine cancer.

Dr. Arturo Bonilla, who is on Reynolds’ current medical care team, said that neuroendocrine cancer can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are nonspecific. “It is considered rare, but it’s not as rare as some think. It presents in so many different ways that it is often dismissed as something minor or thought to be benign. The technology has evolved that allows us to pinpoint neuroendocrine cancer, and we have the equipment to do that. With proper diagnosis and treatment, the patient often can enjoy a high quality of life,” he said.

Reynolds underwent two surgeries followed by an integrative treatment plan that included naturopathic care, physical therapy, and nutritionist care. She said she is pleased with the way her life is going now.

Mona Reynolds says she can’t say enough about the high level of support her husband, Gilbert, left, has provided during her cancer diagnosis and treatment.

“When I was first diagnosed, I was devastated,” Reynolds recalled. “I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I had to tell myself not to freak out—that God was testing me, and I had to stay strong.”

Her illness proved highly responsive to the treatment, Reynolds said. “My doctors were phenomenal. Because Dr. Bonilla is an internist as well as an oncologist, he has been able to treat my other health concerns along with the cancer. I was back at work in two weeks. I was told to expect a recovery period of six weeks, but I was back in two,” she said. “My life is close to normal now except that I have to go for monthly injections to treat what remains of the tumor.”

The health crisis caused her to reevaluate much of her life, Reynolds said. “I used to be a workaholic. I have always tried to help people through my job; now I focus on helping other people however they come into my life. I met another patient who was unable to pay for medication, so I paid for it. I just want to serve others at a deeper level,” she added.

Reynolds credits her support systems, including her medical treatment team, her co-workers, and her family with getting her through what she said might have been a much worse time. She laughed as she said her mother reminded her that her maiden name is Strong.

“And my husband—I can’t say enough about what his support has meant through all this.”

Reynolds said she feels driven to share her story, hoping to encourage others in a similar situation. “Stay positive,” she advised.

“Communicate with your doctor and learn what you can about your diagnosis. Above all, don’t postpone enjoyment of life. Continue to celebrate your life. Calling herself “a Christmas baby,” Reynolds, who turned 50 a few days before Christmas, said she had “a great deal to celebrate.”

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