Name: Ashely Monti
School/Career: Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Science and Political Science, and duel minor in Spanish and Biology from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.
Interesting Fact: I have been a vegetarian for 9 years in a large Italian family!
How were you impacted by cancer?
When I was about 12 or 13 years old my mother, Laurie Monti, was diagnosed with lung cancer. Prior to this diagnosis she was diagnosed with emphysema and heart disease. My mother was an avid smoker, and developed the habit at a young age. Her addiction never stopped, and this is what caused my mother to have lung cancer. The cancer spread to her lymph nodes, which made it very difficult to treat. Ultimately, cancer killed my mother on March 10th, of 2009.
What ways did you cope?
Truthfully, I didn’t cope, at least not very well. I missed a lot of school while my mother was sick. She was in and out of the hospital so frequently that it was hard to have any breaks for processing the constant updates of her illness. On the other hand, having my family alongside me got me through day by day. Having my sisters with me in the hospital, to help watch over my mom was helpful. We talked to each other a lot, and used that time to bond over our love and appreciation for our mom.
What support did you personally receive?
I didn’t receive any type of true support until after my mother died. An organization called MargaretAnn’s Place started group therapy sessions for students who lost a loved one. Sadly, majority of the students who were in this group also lost a loved one to cancer. However, the beauty of the group was that we all understood the grief we were experiencing and used that understanding to support each other.
How did you support your loved one with cancer?
My mother would actually say that she wanted to die. I think it was mainly from the pain. Seeing her so stricken with illness made it hard to support her- as a family, we tried to bring positivity with us to the hospital. This was an extremely draining process because this positivity was not genuinely given that everyone was depressed on the inside. Time together was spent reminiscing, watching movies, playing cards, and trying to bring normality to such hard days. Overall, my mother did not handle her diagnosis well. She took to drinking for emotional and physical pain. As a 14-year-old at the time, I was clueless as to how else I could support her when she’s going through such a terrible fight.
What advice would you offer to someone who is the caregiver, family member, or friend of a cancer patient?
Cancer sucks. Witnessing my mother’s battle with cancer as a young child was very hard for me, because conceptually, I did not understand the reality of what was happening. So one piece of advice would be that if there are children involved, try to take a lot of the burden off of their shoulders. I felt responsible at times for not being able to support my mother in the way she needed. This is something I still struggle with even today, having regret.
Also, understand that people will only accept help if they want it, and they need to want it for themselves. My mother was so stubborn, and it was extremely difficult to convince her to even go to the hospital. Yes, you can tell yourself a million times, “We should have convinced her sooner,” but those are only words that speak false truth. You are doing everything you can, so do not beat yourself up over things you simply cannot change.
In general, if you are a person who is the loved one of someone who has cancer it is important to care for yourself too. Reach out for the extra emotional support because fighting cancer is an exhausting roller-coaster, even if you are not the person with cancer.
It is okay to feel sad, angry, confused, and even grief. Know that you are not the only person experiencing this struggle. In the moment it does seem like your world may be collapsing, but like everything in life “this too shall pass.”
Resources for those grieving:
Camp Hometown Heroes
Seasons Hospice Foundation
Optional: please attach a photo related to your story to be included on the blog