Local News

Saturday, Feb 15 2014 04:53 PM

Cancer patient gets a surprise kitchen makeover

  1. 1 of 11

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Rudy Martinez, left, and Will France remove a kitchen window that will be replaced along with a total kitchen remodel as part of the "Kitchens 4 Cancer" program started by Dr. Ravi Patel and Woodmasters Design.

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  2. 2 of 11

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Dr. Ravi Patel has teamed up with Woodmasters Design to launch a new program, "Kitchens 4 Cancer" where local cancer patients can have their kitchens restored or remodeled by volunteers.

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  3. 3 of 11

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    New cabinets ready to be installed at this house on Wilson Road as part of the "Kitchens 4 Cancer" program.

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  4. 4 of 11

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Carmen Munoz's new kitchen after CBCC partners and WoodMasters renovated it for her. This is part of a program called Kitchens 4 Cancer.

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  5. 5 of 11

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Upon walking into her living room full of friends and relatives, Carmen Munoz was totally surprised Saturday. She then found out she had a totally renovated kitchen thanks to CBCC partners and WoodMasters. Her son Raymond Saldana, left, opened the door for her.

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  6. 6 of 11

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Carmen Munoz is mobbed by friends and relatives in her Bakersfield home Saturday during a surprise party and renovated kitchen for Munoz by CBCC partners and WoodMasters.

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  7. 7 of 11

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Carmen Munoz is surprised to find a house full of friends and relatives Saturday and a totally renovated kitchen from CBCC partners and WoodMasters. This is part of a program called Kitchens 4 Cancer.

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  8. 8 of 11

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Carmen Munoz is surprised by visitors in her home in Bakersfield Saturday as part of the program Kitchens 4 Cancer sponsored by CBCC partners and WoodMasters, They renovated her kitchen.

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  9. 9 of 11

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    It was a big day Saturday for Carmen Munoz, center, who was greeted by surprise to a full house upon her arrival as part of Kitchens 4 Cancer by CBCC partners and WoodMasters, who renovated her kitchen. Her son Ruben Saldana is on the right helping her meet and greet friends and relatives.

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  10. 10 of 11

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Carmen Munoz is helped by her son Ruben Saldana, right, before walking into her renovated kitchen Saturday in her home in Bakersfield.

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  11. 11 of 11

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Carmen Munoz and her son Ruben Saldana, right, walk into her new kitchen Saturday during her surprise party in her Bakersfield home. CBCC, along with WoodMasters, renovated her kitchen in a program called Kitchens 4 Cancer.

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BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer cedelhart@bakersfield.com

Ray Saldana peeked through the blinds of his mother's dining room window, then peered over his shoulder at a crowded living room of friends and relatives.

"Oh my God she's going to kill me," he said with a thousand-watt smile. "I've been lying to her all this time. I've never lied to my mother. Does anybody know CPR?"

Saldana's nurse wife and nursing student niece simultaneously raised their hands.

"We're both CPR-certified," offered the niece, Crystal Martinez.

"We might need it," Saldana quipped.

It was actually 62-year-old lung cancer patient Carmen Munoz who looked like she might need resuscitation for a stunned moment Saturday, but not because of her illness.

Munoz was just shocked by the appearance of her house, which had been remodeled and redecorated while she'd been away visiting a sister in Moreno Valley, which is just east of Riverside.

Munoz's 1,100-square-foot, 1952 southeast Bakersfield home got a complete makeover Saturday in the inaugural Kitchens 4 Cancer program, which aims to surprise a needy cancer patient with a new kitchen every year on or near Valentine's Day.

It's co-sponsored by Comprehensive Blood & Cancer Center and Saldana's company, WoodMasters Design.

The whole thing started when Munoz asked the younger of her two adult sons if he'd paint her kitchen. Saldana told her no, he was just too busy.

"I think I hurt her feelings, to be honest," he said. "But it was all part of the set-up."

Saldana had bigger plans than a mere paint job, so he schemed with CBCC to get Munoz out of town for a few days so he and a small army of volunteers could rip out the dated 1950s kitchen and start over from scratch.

"I told her she needed a little break from the chemo and recommended that she get out of town, visit some family and get some rest," said CBCC's Dr. Ravi Patel.

Munoz was only supposed to get a kitchen, but her relatives and the contractors, furniture stores and laborers who donated time and merchandise got a little carried away.

As new appliances, cabinets, countertops and flooring were installed in the kitchen, the project creeped into the dining and living rooms.

Even the front door was replaced, which was the first thing Munoz noticed. As she fiddled with her keys, she could be heard wondering aloud if her son had painted the door because it looked different.

When she opened it, about 70 friends, relatives and volunteers jumped up and shouted, "Surprise!"

Munoz cupped her hand over her mouth and her eyes filled with tears, but the tiny space was so crowded with people that it took a few minutes for her to register that this was more than just a surprise party.

As the crowd surged forward to embrace and pat her, the realization dawned slowly and Munoz's eyes widened.

"Oh my gosh!" she said over and over again. "Oh my gosh!"

Dark, wide-planked hardwood floors in the kitchen and living room had replaced previous wood flooring so warn and warped that it had lost its original color.

The new furniture and accessories included a dining room table and chairs and leather sofas.

In the kitchen, granite countertops were installed over glazed beige cabinets with oil-rubbed bronze hardware.

Wearing a head scarf and hat, Munoz was dazed by strangers and television camera crews intermixed with friends and family in her new kitchen.

"I don't know you," she told a volunteer through her astonished gasps.

"Just hug him," someone shouted, so she did.

The makeover was absolutely beautiful, Munoz said.

"When you're on a fixed income, it's such a struggle, and then to get cancer," she said. "When you're sitting there at CBCC getting your chemo, you're all alone, but this. It's so nice. It really makes you feel like people care and you matter."

Neither Saldana nor Patel could say precisely how much the makeover was worth because so much of the labor and merchandise was donated, but they estimated it was easily in the thousands -- far more than the single mother could have afforded on her own.

After the surprise reveal, Munoz was treated to a catered family reunion in the backyard.

"Who did the cooking? I always do the cooking!" she said when she saw a buffet line forming.

"We ordered it," said her older son, Ruben Saldana.

Patel was feeling quite proud of himself as he and his wife took the scene in.

"Whatever happens to Carmen, she and her family will always have this memory, and that's so important," he said. "Everyone always talks about drugs and chemotherapy, but family support and love, that's helping her more than anything we can do with chemo."

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