Monica R. rises early and starts her day in her art studio with a cup of coffee and a sketchbook. Browsing her portfolio at, it’s hard to imagine she began in 2020 with a few bottles of acrylic craft paint and a dream. With works titled, “Break Free” and “Open Heart,” her paintings feature bold color and large sweeping movements.

Even more incredible are the challenges she faces while creating her art. It began a month after her 2011 wedding. Monica was working at a job she loved as a surgical technologist when she went to the doctor with what she assumed was a pinched nerve. It turned out to be a very large tumor in her spine, one of many tumors her doctors would discover. She had a new husband and was determined to live her life with him. As a single mom for 12 years, Monica was determined to watch her son grow up. “When that doctor told me I had a year to live, in that moment, I never wanted to live more in my life,” she said.

By chance, her husband had a cousin working at Kansas Spine. When Robin Read heard about Monica’s diagnosis, she referred her to Dr. Grundmeyer. “He told me the name of the disease and showed me the sizes of the tumors. He said he felt confident to do the surgery.” As new diagnoses were emerging, Dr. Grundmeyer performed a number of surgeries on Monica to help manage her conditions. With each surgery, she felt the support of the Kansas Spine team.

“They don’t treat me like a helpless person who doesn’t matter,” said Monica. “They would braid my hair so it would be out of my way. Even the kitchen would make special food for me so I could use my hands and feed myself.” She spent time in a rehab hospital, and was in a motorized wheelchair for a couple of years after returning home. To welcome her home, Monica’s husband had cleared paths throughout the house and built ramps so she could get around in her wheelchair. During that time, she was paralyzed, could not perform daily functions or use her hands.

But in between the surgeries, the paralysis and her hospital stays, something miraculous happened. Monica penned her personal blog, titled, “My Chronic Happiness,” and eventually regained her mobility. Her hands didn’t work very well, but out of it came her reinvention as a contemporary abstract artist with a flair for texture and movement. Today Monica sells her work throughout the United States and Canada, and was named a 2022 Circle Foundation Featured Artist.

As she balances her roles of artist, wife and mom, Monica knows it is important to stay active. She rises around 5:30 a.m., pours her coffee and moves slowly to help her body loosen up. Her husband, a Master Technician at a large auto dealership, leaves for work and Monica goes about her day … drawing, paying bills, walking her dogs Bentley and Parker, cooking and doing normal everyday tasks. Her son, now well into his 20s, is building his own future while remaining strong and protective of his mom.

“Nature inspires me, the outdoors, landscape, the sky, the moon, colors and shapes,” said Monica. “My hands don’t work very well but it gave me the feeling of being creative. I’m not afraid to fail.”