Cancer survivor inspires marine conservation

A Seattle Aquarium dive volunteer who beat cancer is now helping to inspire marine conservation and future female divers.

Born and raised in western Washington, 28-year-old Veronica Monell has been diving recreationally for 11 years. She started volunteering at the Seattle Aquarium in 2018 as a diver. Monell plays a critical role in caring for the aquarium’s animals and helping to maintain the Pacific Coral Reef tank.

But the day after Christmas in 2018, Monell received news about her health that nearly ended her diving career.

“I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Stage IIB, a type of cancer. It was very surprising. I was taking my dive course master when I was going through it and had no idea. I just thought I was a little out of shape or my asthma was coming back,” said Monell.

Monell stayed focused on her love for the marine environment throughout her treatment, determined to get back in the water.

“I wanted to be done with the cancer so I could go back to diving — since I have such a passion for it. I didn’t want to ever give it up,” said Monell.

Eleven months after Monell’s diagnosis, she was in remission and cleared to dive back in. The aquarium was thrilled to welcome her back.

“Inspiring to see somebody that loves the ocean so much that they made that a priority when they first got well — come back and continue to serve the ocean and aquarium,” said Dave Glenn, Seattle Aquarium volunteer engagement manager.

A cancer survivor, Monell is now inspiring young girls to pursue diving, a field that has traditionally been male-dominated. In the future, Monell hopes to become a dive instructor and public safety diver.

“Roughly, 40% of recreational divers are female. And to have even fewer than that in the professional diving space, to have Veronica, who is a wonderful female diver as a role model for folks, is really exciting,” said Glenn.

As an ambassador for the aquarium, Monell is helping to educate the young visitors. By demonstrating her skills as a diver, she is empowering people to take action for marine conservation.

“Saving the marine environment takes everyone, and it’s really vital to get as many people as involved as possible — whether it’s a professional, a volunteer, or you’re just at home wanting to learn a little bit more or do a little bit more for the ocean,” said Glenn.

The Seattle Aquarium recently closed its doors to visitors and volunteers after the second wave of COVID-19 restrictions went into effect mid-November. The organization has been struggling to survive since the first pandemic shutdown in March. To date, it has lost more than 60% in revenue and needs donations now more than ever. For information on how to help, you can visit https://www.seattleaquarium.org/donate/make-donation.