ZEKE'S HOME AGAIN
When Ezequiel "Zeke" Monzon turned 14 years old, he celebrated his birthday at the Sanford Children's Hospital in Sioux Falls with family and hospital staff while undergoing treatment for Stage 2 Class A Hodgkin's Lymphoma. That was on May 7, 2019.
Determined and refusing to give up, Zeke eventually was declared the winner in his bout with cancer and eventually became strong enough to wrestle in the Section 3A tournament in Canby. Despite not being 100 percent in terms of strength, Zeke surprised coaches, teammates and even himself with a strong showing in his 120-pound weight class.
"I have a lot of faith and I never thought about giving up; not in life and not in wrestling," he said after that tournament.
Zeke had only been able to wrestle three varsity matches all season prior to the section tournament. Because his teammate, Eric Carrasco, an eventual state qualifier, moved up to 113 pounds, Zeke was able to fill in at 120 pounds.
Monzon went 1-2 in the tournament, but all three of his opponents that day made it to the medal stand.
Coaches and teammates were looking forward to having a healthy Zeke on the team this winter.
But while going for a routine cancer check in Sioux Falls this past fall, doctors discovered the cancer had returned.
"I was really sad when they said it had come back," Zeke said on Monday night. "I wasn't expecting it to come back because I went through chemo and radiation the first time."
This time, Zeke spent Christmas and New Year's in the hospital.
"He went in for a checkup and the doctors found his cancer had returned," said Nyomie Monzon, Zeke's mother. "He didn't get sick. They just found a spot on his normal CT scan that he has been getting every three months. They did a biopsy and it was the cancer that came back."
Zeke was initially treated in Sioux Falls in early November.
"They needed to do a stronger treatment on him after two cycles of treatment (one week for a three-day treatment and three weeks later another three-day treatment) hey gave him in Sioux Falls," Nyomie explained. "They needed to kill what they could of the cancer."
Zeke was then able to go home for a few weeks, before being taken to the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital in Minneapolis on Nov. 30.
"They did a stem cell rescue, which is a BMT, but since it was his own cells, it's called stem cell rescue," Nyomie said.
The transplant was performed on Dec. 8 and Zeke was released from the hospital on Dec. 21, although his parents, Julio and Nyomie, had to stay in an apartment with Zeke that was set up by the Children's Hospital in the Twin Cities to make sure he didn't react or develop an infection.
Then on Friday, Jan. 8, doctors declared Zeke cancer-free and the family was able to return to their home in Ghent. The next day, the family attended church service in Ghent and Zeke played drums at his church, Ministerio Rayo de Luz (Ministry Ray of Light) as he often did prior to his hospitalization.
"He has been waiting to go home for awhile already," his mother said on Friday. "He is very excited, as we are too. Doctors said that normally patients have to stay longer when they have this done, but he was doing really good so they let him go home."
Zeke has three siblings, Jeremiah ("JJ"), Jacqueline and Ruth.
"I was happy to be home again," Zeke said. "I'm still a little weak and I get a little nauseous after I eat. But I feel better every day."
Doctors at the Children's Hospital had initially told the Monzons that Zeke would likely get very sick and need a blood transfusion from the stem cell rescue procedure.
"He was only really sick for one or two days," Nyomie told. "The other days were not too bad. He surprised doctors every day. He never needed a blood transfusion and needed plates for only three days. His numbers went up quickly, he was eating pretty good, and he left his IV fluids and nutrition quicker than they thought."
The family is of strong faith and believe that is the reason for the rapid recovery.
"We want to first thank God for his love and blessings, and for helping Zeke and us get through this," Nyomie said. "And we want to thank everyone for their prayers, help, donations and everything from helping us at the hospital to helping us at home with the kids. There are no words to show how thankful we are for everyone in our lives."
Zeke will return to Sioux Falls next week to see if everything is still going well.
"He's a tough kid," his mother said.