Out of the Ashes—A Life of Purpose

By Amy Holmquist ('09)
March 11, 2014
Out of the Ashes—A Life of Purpose

It all started in a hospital room at the University of Kansas Medical Center. The course of Kenyan native and RN to BSN student Monica Kangethe’s life was altered by one doctor’s appointment.  A parents’ worst nightmare came to life as the word “cancer” crossed the doctor’s lips.

Thinking their toddler just had a cold, Monica and her husband, Benson, never expected to hear a cancer diagnosis. For the next two years, they practically lived in the halls of KU Medical Center, accompanying their first-born son through chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Even while giving birth to their second child, their first was in the next room battling cancer.

“That was the turnaround of our life,” Kangethe said, describing the diagnosis and the journey her family would take.

Though the outcome wasn’t good—in 2006, at just three years of age, her son passed away—it was through this journey Kangethe felt called to use her grief and faith in God to embark on a new path. Through public speaking, nursing, and writing she now helps others deal with similar challenges.

The difficulties of life were familiar to Kangethe. Born and raised in Kenya, her first home had no running water or refrigerator. Many times her family went without food and adequate clothing. The daughter of a farmer and housewife, life growing up in Kenya was hard.

After completing her high school education, Kangethe received the opportunity to come to America. In 1996, she made the journey from Kenya to Seattle, Washington.

“The transition was not easy because of the culture shock. It was a really overwhelming time,” she commented.

Out of the Ashes—A Life of PurposeKangethe's son, Joshua, playing guitar with congressman Dennis Moore in 2006.

Five years later, she met her husband who was also from Kenya. From there she followed her husband to Kansas City where they wed and started their own little family. It was in 2003, when her son was diagnosed with cancer that her life really changed.

“Once I got married, I had this dream of raising a family, having a beautiful home. I had goals for my life,” Kangethe commented.

Her son's experience at KU Medical Center charted her course to help others also experiencing painful life circumstances. She began speaking at women’s conferences, and sharing her story with other parents who also lost a child.

“You can feel it. Those who have lost children connect with me more, and open up. And speak up. And when they speak up, they start healing,” Kangethe said.

During her son’s treatment Kangethe watched the nurses who treated her son. She observed how they took care of him and the sympathetic way they treated her family. They inspired her to pursue a nursing career, which she did by completing her Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) degree at Neosho Community College in 2007 and an associate’s degree in nursing in 2011.

“But I wasn’t stopping there,” Kangethe said, describing her decision to apply for MNU’s nursing program to obtain her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.

Kangethe knew she wanted to care for children and families in pediatrics—just like the KU team cared for her son and her family during the worst couple of years of their life.

“I was told that the program at MNU was very good. With my own Christian background, I knew I would really love it,” she said.

Out of the Ashes—A Life of PurposeKangethe with her family.Somehow Kangethe fits school into a very busy schedule as a full-time nurse, a women’s ministry leader and choir member in her church, and a mother of three. As if that wasn’t enough, she has also started writing a book centered on the grace of God, and how experiences can empower a person. In the book she talks about her life in Kenya, poverty, the power of education, the loss of her young son, and how, as she puts it, she “rose from the ashes.”

“The book is about how I had to empower myself with education and I did not get discouraged with where I had come from. That made me work harder,” Kangethe said.

Kangethe plans to graduate in May 2015 and hopes to move from long term care nursing to pediatrics. Kangethe’s husband is a minister, and together they have three children ages eight, six and four.