Walking into Greenstar, I had no idea what an interesting, strong, passionate individual I was about to meet. Monty Berman, the writer, is someone who I deeply admire. His cancer is not something he uses as one of his major defining factors, and it was wonderful to see such strength in his eyes and spirit.
In 1998, Berman was diagnosed. He mentioned receiving external radiation at John Hopkins, which did cause him some difficulties with scar tissue and bleeding afterward. Over time, that has settled down. Now, Berman is back on hormones again. His family, says Berman, was minimally affected. He was divorced in 2002, and has been single with the cancer ever since. Berman said that he rents his upstairs but overall lives a pretty independent life. His son, however, was the most involved with his cancer process out of his family. Berman’s son took a look at the biopsies and has been supportive of Berman through the process. His son has things to say about what he thinks is going on and has advice to give. I asked how his son had so much knowledge on the subject, and Berman told me he ran the pathology department at John Hopkins. Berman said, “Kingston Canada hired him away from John Hopkins and paid him twice as much; must be a fortune. The move got him 200 miles closer.”
After cancer talk was out of the way, I asked him about his involvement with the Cancer Resource Center. Berman said he got to know Bob Riter through some of the stuff he was doing at Cayuga Medical Center or Lifelong. Early on, when he first had prostate cancer, he would attend meetings regularly at Unitarian Church and Bob came to some of those meetings. That was about twelve years ago. His most recent involvement with CRC was attending the breakfast club meetings. He also enjoyed an Adventure trip sponsored by the center. He had the opportunity to go up to Cornell and saw places he’d never seen before. “I really liked that,” he said. “We went to a bunch of places I never knew existed. I’d like more stuff like that.” Berman went on to say, “I really appreciate what Bob looks to provide. He’s very sincere and works hard at that.” He recommends people go to the center for support, information, and social events.
Berman has been in Ithaca 17 years. He is currently living in Ecovillage at Ithaca, which he moved to in 1996. They just added a third neighborhood, which is twice as big as the other two. “It doesn’t appeal to me, but the people are great.”
Ecovillage is not the only project he is involved with. Berman does a lot of classes at Lifelong. Also, he is working at Empire State College with an independent study. One of Berman’s biggest passions, I learned, was writing. “I write a lot,” Berman said, his face beginning to light up. Thirty years has been devoted to Berman’s love of writing. I asked what he wrote about and he said, “I would say…personal growth and self development.” He told me he has self-published in the bookstore. “I’ve got three little books. They’re small. One’s 50 pages, second 110, and 60 pages. Monty’s Musings is my last, my latest. The other one is Personal Growth Notes. And a Men’s Journal: The First Year. I had sent out the journal to a manager in this area.”
I asked Berman what he wanted people to know about him, separate from the cancer. This was a question that really resonated with him. He said, “How I’ve created myself and developed what I refer to as a solid sense of self. And it’s been a long, big change from how I was in the world in the first 50 years. [The change] started with knowing myself, being in touch with my ongoing experience, and it’s like taking charge of myself, using myself well. Not a drift.” Referring back to how the cancer has affected his life, he said, “Hard to ignore. People ask me how I am. Personally I’m in good shape. Physically I contend with a lot. Health hasn’t been an issue; I don’t sleep much, frequently getting up. It’s been no fun. I seem to be taking it in stride. It is what it is.”
As our interview came to a close, Berman told me the next thing he was doing that day was yoga. “I do it at my house Mondays and Fridays at 4:30 and people join me. I lead it.” Just a couple people come, he told me. Smiling, he said he just describes what he’s doing even though the guy who coming regularly knows it so well already.
After saying goodbye, Berman’s closing words to me were, “Good luck with your pursuits and with your struggles.” I wish him the same. The fact that we are both writers definitely bonded us, and I hope that I have the chance to see him again in the future.
Written by Siona Stone