AJ Monte was looking forward to his fourth birthday just like any other little boy: cake, presents, and lots of fun with family and friends! But overnight, the Monte family’s world changed forever when AJ woke up on his birthday with severe leg pain that did not go away. Balloons and birthday games were a distant thought when AJ’s family learned he needed to be emergency medevaced 3,000 miles from their home in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where AJ’s father was stationed with the Army, to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. There, barely four-year-old AJ was diagnosed with cancer.
The onset of his cancer, Pre-B acute lymphoblastic leukemia, happened so quickly that AJ was immediately sent to the United States for treatment. Within a week of turning four years old, AJ and his mom landed on US soil via another medevac, with his dad and siblings close behind on a regular plane.
AJ was so sick that he was inpatient at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, DC for almost a month. He was considered on the very high risk protocol for leukemia – the highest possible – because he was still not in remission after a month of treatment.
The Monte family was nearly in pieces. AJ’s siblings were torn away from their friends and classmates AJ Monte & familypractically overnight without a chance to say goodbye. The family had been based overseas for years and had to abruptly adjust to American culture while AJ fought for his life. For two months, the family stayed at the Fisher House at Walter Reed, a housing facility for military families with a loved one undergoing medical treatment.
“Moving overseas itself was so stressful, but to add on a very sick child…that was beyond words,” said AJ’s mom, Alexa. The Monte’s slowly adjusted to their new lifestyle by finding a more permanent home nearby, re-enrolling the older kids in school, and thankfully receiving a local reassignment for AJ’s dad so he could be with his family.
Alexa learned about Believe In Tomorrow’s respite program through their social worker at Walter Reed, but initially was so overwhelmed that it took several months to schedule their first getaway. Just a few months after AJ’s fifth birthday, the family spent a long weekend at the snow-covered Believe In Tomorrow House on Wisp Mountain in Western Maryland. The kids screamed with joy when they walked in, laughing at the ornate wood-carved animals on the foyer bench, and each hugging stuffed bears from the family’s welcome basket.
“Our favorite part was to be able to be together and not be stressed out by anything financial,” said Alexa. “The house really resonated with the kids, it was cozy and inviting like a mountain house should be. They keep asking when we’re going to get our own log cabin!” she laughed.
After a snowy mountain weekend, the Monte family decided to try out a sunny summer week at the beach. They stayed at the Believe In Tomorrow House on the Bay in Ocean City, MD, one of Believe In Tomorrow’s respite houses dedicated to military families. The kids loved fishing, both from the back pier of the house and on a boat ride with local volunteers.
“The beach was more than we ever thought it would be, and it was SO nice to be able to do everything together,” said Alexa. “The financial strain has been challenging and we would never have gone on any vacations without Believe In Tomorrow!”
AJ still has two years left on his very high risk treatment protocol, and will be closely monitored after completion for any signs of relapse. Though the Monte family is unsure what the future holds, they know that they are at least together again as a family and can look forward to many more getaways with Believe In Tomorrow!