Monte Bona was “raised to be a cowboy.” Born in Payson, Utah, he grew up in the small farming community with his parents and five siblings. “My dad was a horse trader and I had my first pair of cowboy boots when I was probably three years old.” Beyond the boots, Monte exemplifies aspects of a traditional cowboy in other ways: self-reliance and individualism, with the ability to dust himself off when times get tough and get right back in the saddle.
In March 2009 at the age of 71, he had a health check-up which included blood work. He received a clean bill of health. Only a month later, Monte noticed a lump in his groin and visited his primary care physician. His physician suspected it might be an aneurysm, but a biopsy in late April confirmed follicular lymphoma—Stage I Grade 3, the earliest stage a cancer can be found, but a grade showing an aggressive form of the disease.
“Other than a lump, I had no symptoms,” Monte says. “I didn’t panic because even though they told me I had cancer, I hadn’t been sick. It wasn’t until later that I realized how serious it was.”
Follicular lymphoma is a type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma—cancers of the immune system that begin in white blood cells called lymphocytes. Non-Hodgkin's lymphomas can be aggressive (fast-growing) or indolent (slow-growing), and develop from either B-cells (as in follicular lymphoma) or T-cells.
After being referred to Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) for consultation and treatment, Monte met with Martha Glenn, MD, medical oncologist at HCI and associate professor in the Division of Hematology and Hematologic Malignancies/Oncology at the University of Utah. “When I asked what would happen if I didn’t treat the cancer, I was told I’d have three months to a year,” Monte explains. With the encouraging news that his stage and grade of follicular lymphoma typically responded very well to treatment (not to mention the insistence of his wife and grown children), Monte opted for it. He received a two-month regimen of chemotherapy followed by a month of daily radiation.
Other than losing his hair (which grew back thicker, curly, and silver rather than salt-and-pepper) with occasional bouts of tiredness and nausea, treatment went well. Monte believes proactive nutrition played a role, along with being in good physical shape, taking vitamins, and going regularly for health check-ups. In addition, he says, “I felt that I really lucked out. I had the benefit of early detection.”
September 2010 marks 16 months since Monte’s diagnosis and 13 months since he completed treatment. His last follow-up with Dr. Glenn shows he’s in the clear. “I’m really hopeful and optimistic—probably because I feel so good!” he says. When asked what insight he’d have for others diagnosed with cancer, Monte says, “Don’t panic. Seek to be someone who places a high premium on quality of life and being able to contribute. I did that.”
And he continues to do it. Monte and his wife Jackie spend their time between Salt Lake City and Mount Pleasant, Utah—a small town that reminds him of his boyhood. There, he is active in government, interested in historic preservation, and involved with the Utah Heritage Highway 89 Alliance, a group dedicated to conserving and promoting the roadway that stretches through central Utah. And, he’s even dusted off the boots.
“One of my buddies—I’ve known him for a long time—tells me I put on my cowboy boots and spit death in the eye!” Spoken like a true cowboy.