Pilot House chef battles stage 4 breast cancer

She has found support from her UP community.

By Natalie Rubio-Licht | September 6, 2017 8:17pm
Monique Quintana sits down to discuss her life before and during cancer treatment.
Media Credit: Sarah Varney / The Beacon

In December of 2016, Pilot House chef Monique Quintana, 35, discovered a lump on her neck. She had already been experiencing aching in her bones and pain in her lower back. Despite her doctor’s initial reassurance that it was nothing, Quintana was persistent in visiting the doctor and getting tested for her intense pain.

“I had to transfer to The Commons because the pain was so bad that I could only stand and cashier,” Quintana said. 

In June of this year, Quintana was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. Her best friend Angelene McKinney, a UP janitorial worker, was by her side when she received the news and soon after set up a GoFundMe to help alleviate the cost of Quintana’s medical bills. 

Quintana, a single mother of two young children, was devastated by the news but has received immense support from the UP community. As of Sept. 6, her GoFundMe has raised $770 out of her goal of $5,000.

“Throughout the past year, Monique has been in a lot of pain,” Mckinney wrote in the GoFundMe description. “Watching her suffer, not only at work, but home as well, has brought tears to my eyes.”

Quintana said her cancer has spread into her bones and she said she will most likely opt for a double mastectomy. Through her treatment, Quintana, who has worked at the Pilot House for about a year, feels supported by her coworkers.

“When it comes to the restaurant industry, they’re not usually supportive. They’re like ‘Hey, suck it up or get out,’” Quintana said. “Here they’ve been unbelievable, it’s surreal. They give me the desire to always want to come back and work and do my best even in my condition. I’m really happy at this job.”

Her manager, Ryan Jensen, and the rest of Pilot House staff have been doing what they can to help her, whether that be telling her not to overexert herself or changing her job for the day to be more comfortable. 

“What’s unique about Monique is her ability to stay positive and to always have a smile on her face regardless of how stressful and busy we get, and regardless of what’s going on in the world around us,” Jensen said. “She brings a calming, supportive feel to our staff.” 

Before her career at University of Portland, she studied at the Oregon Culinary Institute for nine months before receiving her diploma. She moved to Portland at age 12 after spending her childhood in Los Angeles, CA. 

“For me, my home is Portland,” Quintana said. “I’ve lived in this area for 22 years.”

Portland is where she raised her two kids, Daude, 7, and Leilah, 9, who both attend City Christian School. Though Quintana’s cancer on top of being a single mother has its challenges, her children have been adjusting well to the news. 

“They've been pretty bratty for the summer, so that’s a good sign,” Quintana said. “They're not worried the way other kids might be. They are concerned but they know I’m going to be okay.” 

Quintana focuses on staying positive. Over the summer, she spent time making memories with her kids by taking them to the zoo, the children’s museum and the Portland Saturday market.

“I do whatever makes my kids happy, and that makes me happy,” Quintana said. “My children are one of the biggest reasons I want to survive this. They’re my reason for living.”

Monique Quintana sits down to discuss her life before and during cancer treatment.
by Sarah Varney / The Beacon

On days when she’s not feeling her best, Quintana draws hope from her family, one of her biggest influences being her mother. 

“(My mother) has been my rock,” Quintana said. “She’s a great example of a strong woman, and I feel like I’ve taken part in that and used it in my life, and hopefully that’ll pass on to my kids too.”

Quintana also receives much of her support from her best friend of 20 years, Mckinney. 

“She’s a mother of nine and she makes time to help me,” Quintana said. “She’ll help me go to my doctor's appointment, take me to go run errands...I don’t even see her as my friend; I see her as my family.” 

A few weeks ago, Quintana found out from her oncologist, Dr. Regan Look at Compass Oncology, that her treatment has been working well. For now, she has the support of her friends and family.

“I know that it’s going to end well,” Quintana said. “All I’m thinking is that nothing's impossible. This will make me stronger. I feel like it already has.”