Column: Car accident led to grim prognosis for North Fork native

They met through a mutual friend more than two decades ago. Cathy Monsell can recall the precise day she first met her husband, Kevin: June 18, 1993. Eleven months later, Kevin proposed.

They were married Feb. 10, 1995, in a small, town hall-style ceremony ahead of the formal wedding to give Cathy a jump-start on health benefits. They were married twice, as Cathy says. The big wedding with the bridesmaids, flowers and all the guests occurred three months later, on May 20.

Cathy was so excited once they were first married, she could have done without the big, formal wedding, but she knew how important it was for Kevin, who has a large family.

“I would do it again a million times,” she said.

In the years that followed, Cathy, an Orient native, could always count on her husband to be there for her. Her health issues mounted — she suffers from two autoimmune diseases and arthritis — limiting her ability to work in recent years and even accomplish small tasks around the house. They now live in Moriches, a halfway point between where Kevin worked in Hauppauge and their North Fork hometowns. At age 29, a doctor told her she had the neck of an 80-year-old, she said.

Kevin, a Mattituck native who has worked in IT for Suffolk County for nearly 25 years, mostly in the health services department, has been the household’s sole provider for more than a decade.

On Nov. 22, 2017, the night before Thanksgiving, Kevin was out running errands after work to prepare for the holiday and planned to shop at Target. He was driving on Veterans Highway in Bohemia when he was involved in an accident at the intersection of Lakeland Avenue. His car was totaled. He was transported to a nearby hospital for evaluation and it appeared he had dodged a bullet: He had no visible injuries.

But the Monsells soon found out their nightmare was just beginning.

A routine CT scan revealed something was off. Doctors quickly followed up with an MRI and then an MRA, which can closely examine arteries and blood vessels in the brain.

How to help:

Doctors delivered a bombshell: Kevin had a tumor in his brain. A biopsy was performed to allow doctors to evaluate the tumor further and determine a course of action. Kevin spent eight nights at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital before being discharged on Nov. 30 with a grim prognosis. He needed to begin chemotherapy and radiation. Surgery to remove the tumor, which had already grown to the size of a plum, was not an option.

“It was pretty much hell on earth,” Cathy said. “I can’t tell you what finding out your husband of almost 23 years has an inoperable brain tumor is like.”

Suddenly, the tide had turned. For so many years, Kevin, 56, had been there to help and care for his wife. And now, he needed her more than ever.

“He needs more help than I can give him,” Cathy said.

Reflecting back to before the accident, Cathy said there were signs that something might be off. Kevin had recently felt fatigued and distracted and had some difficulty focusing at work. Still, nothing struck him as a signal that such an imminent danger was lurking.

Kevin undergoes treatment now at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Commack, is unable to drive and suffers from vision impairment that causes him to be unsteady on his feet. His left arm and hand feel heavy, as if asleep. Even a simple task like filling out paperwork is too much for him to handle due to the vision problems, Cathy said.

“All of this is dumped on top of me,” she said. “I know I can’t handle it alone.”

Kevin has been a prominent figure in the local acting community, playing roles in productions by North Fork Community Theatre and Northeast Stage, which performs Shakespeare plays outdoors in Greenport’s Mitchell Park.

“Kevin’s passion is theater,” his wife said.

A typically quiet, reserved and humble man, Kevin transforms into a different person on stage. Even after so many years together, Cathy said she’s still amazed to see the transformation. So many of the people he’s worked with in theater have become close friends over the years, and now those people are rallying together to help the family in need.

Amie Sponza and Alan Stewart, who have both performed alongside Kevin in various productions, are organizing a benefit next month that will feature singing, improv, comedy and even some Shakespeare. Kevin even hopes to recite some lines of Shakespeare if he can make it. Ms. Sponza said they hope to have a chinese auction and raffle as well, and are taking donations, which can be dropped off at Port of Egypt in Southold. The event is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 10, but that hasn’t been finalized, she said.

Cathy said she was encouraged to start a GoFundMe page to help defray the mounting expenses. She had heard of the site, but felt uncomfortable asking friends for money. Ultimately, however, she knew it would be needed. As of Wednesday morning, $3,500 had been raised toward a $10,000 goal.

“We’re floored and grateful,” Cathy said. She also started a page on the website Lotsa Helping Hands, where people can sign up to assist the family with tasks such as driving Kevin to treatment or helping around the house. Cathy said that’s been one of the biggest challenges so far, given her disability and his limited mobility.

Kevin has maintained a positive outlook throughout the ordeal, Cathy said. He told her he’ll keep fighting until the moment comes that there’s no meaningful possibility of recovery. They try not to think about the doctors’ grim 15-month prognosis. Cathy knows the statistics say 50 percent of people in similar situations live longer than the estimate, but the other 50 percent don’t reach the estimate.

Every day, Cathy updates Kevin’s status on her Facebook page. She does it to keep friends and family informed, but also to help herself.

The author is the editor of The Suffolk Times and Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at 631-354-8049 or [email protected].