“You don’t feel like you are doing anything extraordinary, because you are only doing what you have to do to survive.” — Capt. Monica Rosario, cancer survivor.
At 25, Monica Rosario was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer; a diagnosis that would start her on a personal battle not only for her future as a Soldier, but for her life as well.
“When they told me, I felt very numb,” Rosario said. She was a first lieutenant serving as a company executive officer in the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Bragg, North Carolina at the time.
It didn’t occur to Rosario, now a captain at Fort Leonard Wood awaiting her pickup in Engineer Captain’s Career Course, that her frequent visits to her doctor would be as serious as it was. Doctors kept telling her she was just dehydrated and needed to go home and rest.
During one emergency room visit in January of 2015, a doctor started to ask more questions about her frequent illnesses and medical issues. Because that doctor asked a few more questions, Rosario’s responses prompted him to recommend a colonoscopy.
Her mother and father, who were not far away in her hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina, accompanied her to the appointment. That’s when the doctor made the call that it could be cancer. The diagnosis was confirmed at a follow-up exam.
“It really hit (my mom) harder than it hit me,” Rosario said. “She was more emotional than I was because I had no idea what I was getting into.”
Rosario’s mentor and commanding officer at the time, Capt. Chinyere Asoh, said she knew what Rosario was about to endure.
“I served as a commander, and each day, I heard news of Soldiers going through the worst unimaginable concerns of their lives, but I stayed strong for them and their families,” Asoh said.
When she heard the news her executive officer had cancer, she couldn’t hide the emotion.
“For me, this was different,” Asoh said. “My fighter (Capt. Rosario) was going down, and there was nothing I could do. The day I found out, I called my battalion commander as I cried.”
Rosario approached her situation from another perspective — one she adapted from a former ESPN anchorman, Stuart Scott, who died from cancer in 2015.
“Whenever you are going through it, you don’t feel like you are doing anything extraordinary, because you are only doing what you have to do to survive,” she said.
Rosario added while she was going through treatment, people calling her a hero made her uncomfortable, because there was nothing she was doing that made her special.
“There is nothing special about it, but, when you have to be strong and you have to survive, you don’t feel like you are doing anything special,” she said.
The Army provided Rosario with the time she needed to focus on recovery. That was a bonus Rosario said she probably wouldn’t have received anywhere else.
“I can say the Army served me when I needed it most, and I am forever grateful,” she said. “I know there were many times I could have quit. I could have settled for someone telling me I should medically retire. But I knew the Army had more in store for me.”
Rosario said it took about two weeks to recover from her surgery before she could start chemotherapy. Following six months of chemo, it took another two months before she was able to resume her physical training.
She said she fought hard to keep herself ready to return to full-duty so she could continue her career. Her will to fight was an inspiration to her husband.
“My wife is literally the strongest person I know,” said Bernard McGee, a former military police officer. “She has been through it all and has mustered the strength to take on even more challenges. She is a true warrior.”
“Monica is a true fighter, and I am happy to state that she is a survivor,” Asoh said. “Her illness did not define her, rather it broadened her view of life.”
Rosario credits positive thoughts, and the support of her Army Family, for helping her to stay in the Army and make it to Fort Leonard Wood to complete Engineer Captain’s Career Course.
“The Army’s resiliency training has instilled in me the ability to stay strong and stay resilient in all aspects of life,” she said. “Being resilient has helped me, and still helps me on a daily basis. Seeking positive thoughts, and staying away from negative thoughts impact how we feel and how we live every day.”