For Lovell resident Patrick Moen, 26, cancer was life threatening, but ultimately turned out to be life changing, too. Moen was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma at only six months old. As a result, he doesn’t know what it’s like not to have cancer. He also doesn’t remember what it was like to have vision because the disease rendered him blind in both eyes at an early age.
In spite of what some might see as a disability, Moen said he sees it as something that adds purpose to his life. That purpose is to inspire others on a spiritual level. His story is one of hope and faith.
According to the National Cancer Institute, retinoblastoma is relatively uncommon and accounts for about 3 percent of the cancers occurring in children younger than 15 years of age. The estimated annual incidence in the United States is approximately four cases per 1 million in children younger than 15 years old. Although retinoblastoma may occur at any age, it most often occurs in younger children, up to 4 years old. Ninety-five percent of cases are diagnosed before age 5, and two-thirds of these cases occur before age 2.
The disease often causes blindness at an early age, which was the case for Moen, which he has adapted to on every level in his life. He works as a guide for the National Park Service and is happily married to his wife, Monica, who is also blind.
Ironically, the two met to a certain extent because they were blind. They met while playing an Internet game called “Alter Aeon” a text-based, multi-user game many blind people across the world enjoy playing. Since the game is primarily verbal and not pictorial, it is very blind friendly. For this reason, the two found themselves both playing the game from different ends of the country at the same time.
Monica said she noticed that Patrick was a very good player and she started communicating with him about how to improve her skills as a player. At the time, she lived in Atlanta and he lived in Lovell. The correspondence continued for a few years, until the two decided to meet. After a few meetings, they decided to get married. When they married, Monica, who is blind from birth, took up residence in Lovell. She is a freelance writer with an online marketing business and works from home.
Gainfully employed and living independently, the two have been married for about a year and hope to have children someday.
“We’re married with four cats,” chuckled Patrick.
The two still like to use the Internet and use screen readers.
“Our computers are like normal computers, but when we press keys on the keyboard, words are spoken,” explained Monica.
At the time the two married Patrick said he was a “non-believer,” in terms of his religious beliefs. Monica, who is quite religious, joined the Bible Church in Lovell and encouraged her husband to attend with her. Inspired by his wife’s faith, Patrick was baptized to celebrate their first year of marriage.
“You don’t always get a choice about what happens to you, but you always get a choice about how you respond to it,” said Monica. “You can choose to find happiness. You can choose to reach out and find love. So disability is not an end in itself, it is not a death sentence.”
Patrick added, “When bad things happen to you, it’s God’s way of teaching you something. You basically have two choices. You can crumble or you can do something with it. It’s as if you are a test to show other people a way of dealing with things.”
Monica noted that if Patrick had not had cancer, she might not have met him. Patrick noted that if she weren’t blind he wouldn’t have met her either. So, in some respects, their blindness helped them find one another.
Moen has been cancer-free since he was 2 years old. He said he plans to walk in the Relay for Life. Monica can’t walk more than a limited distance because she has spinal bifida, but said she hopes to also attend the event and maybe do a few laps in a wheelchair, if she can find someone willing to push her.
“When something tragic happens, look for the blessing in it,” advised Patrick. “Sometimes stuff happens for a reason. Only God really knows the reason.”
Editor’s Note: The annual Relay for Life event will take place in Cowley this year on Saturday, Aug. 9
By Patti Carpenter