Steamboat boy battles kidney cancer |

Steamboat boy battles kidney cancer

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Zack Mongomery has an undeniable appetite for Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, a profound love of his mom, dad and sister and a mischievous smile

The 4-year-old, on Thursday, was busy trying to get his mom Nicole's attention as she talked, and clinging to his dad Mike while they watched parts of the movie “Finding Nemo.” Zack also played with the toys he has received from relatives and friends since he was diagnosed with a childhood form of kidney cancer.

"This has been his best week," Mike said. "He's got his appetite back, and he wants to play. It's just nice to have him back, again."

It's been a rough couple of months for Zack and his family, who live in Steamboat Springs.

"He had been complaining for a few weeks that his leg hurt," Nicole said. "I remember saying, 'Mike do you find this weird?' It's not after skiing and it's when he wakes up in the morning or when he hasn't been doing much. It was always the same leg, and it didn't feel like the usual growing pains."

So Nicole called Pediatrics of Steamboat and made an appointment for the following week. But the Saturday before the appointment, Zack woke up sick.

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"He was like, 'My side hurts, my side hurts really bad. I don't want to go to Winter Carnival,'" Nicole recalls. 

Nicole feared that it might be an appendicitis, and she immediately called Pediatrics of Steamboat. The office wasn't open, but they called her back right away and connected her with pediatrician Dr. Ronald Famiglietti, who told the Montgomerys to meet him at the hospital.

Famiglietti discovered Zack had fluid around his kidney and he kept him overnight for observation. The next morning the doctor decided the family needed to take Zack to Children's Hospital in Denver. 

Once in Denver,  Zack was examined again and put under the care of a urology team. 

"I still thought that it might be something minor," Nicole said. "We got down there, and he wouldn't eat or even engage, which is so unlike him. The next morning they decided they were going to put him under for an MRI."

The first tests revealed Zach had a hematoma, and possibly, a mass on his kidney. But because of the hematoma, doctors could not see the mass and wanted the Montgomerys to do the unthinkable — wait.

"We sat that week in pure hell thinking … ‘What is this going to turn into?’" Nicole said. "I think Mike and I spent the whole week sitting on the couch and crying. We took turns calming and supporting each other."

The family returned to Denver the next week for another ultrasound, which revealed the hematoma was smaller, but the doctors could not rule out that it was a tumor. They asked the Montgomery to wait another two weeks.

On their next visit to Denver, doctors performed another ultrasound and found a solid mass, which needed to be removed.

"He said it was going to be very difficult but best for Zack if we waited a week because the hematoma would be gone," Nicole said. "We had to go nine days between finding out that our child had a tumor, it might be cancerous and it could not be, and knowing that he was going to have a massive surgery. Nothing would be worse than those nine days."

Doctors removed the tumor, allowing Zack to keep 60 percent of the affected kidney. Nicole said doctors are confident they got all of the existing cancer.

"It's great having him back to his old self," Nicole said. "He is back to Discovery Learning Center a couple of days a week. He still has to miss school the day of and the day after he has chemotherapy, but he has been much better."

Zack will undergo chemotherapy for the next 22 weeks. He will also have CT scans every 12 weeks to make sure the cancer has not returned and will be monitored for the next five years. The prognosis is good, but Nicole admits there is still some fear.

"It's absolutely terrifying to find out that somebody that small has cancer, that they have to go through major surgery and every infection is scary," Nicole said.

But the Montgomerys, who moved to Steamboat from Los Cabos in August, are thankful for old and new friends, as well as family.

"When you move to a town like this, you think, ‘I hope we like it,'” Nicole said. "Now, I think to myself that I'm never leaving.”

One new friend, Jamie McQuade, who owns Winona's Restaurant, set up a YouCaring Page at to help the family.

The Montgomerys said the Discovery Learning Center where Zack goes to school, and Soda Creek Elementary School where his 6-year-old sister Skylar attends have been nothing but supportive. The family is also thankful for the coaches at the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, the doctors at Pediatric of Steamboat, the staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs, including Zack's nurses and Jan Fritz, and the Children's Hospital in Denver, where Zach received great care from Dr. Nicholas Cost. 

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.