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Olson's secretary dies of cancer

Ask anyone in the Arizona Athletics Department what they remember about Monica Armenta and each person will say the same thing.


""I'm getting so many e-mails and phone calls,"" said Armenta's mother, Leonor Benitez, of her daughter's death. ""That's the first thing they say is that amazing smile.""


Armenta, the secretary to former UA men's basketball coach Lute Olson, succumbed to an incurable brain tumor Friday morning at the age of 40.


""I was there, I had my hand on her chest when she took her last breath and her brother and sister were there (too),"" Benitez said. ""I had my iPod and she was listening to music all through her death. George Harrison, ‘My Sweet Lord,' was on the iPod when she died.""


Diagnosed with cancer in December 2000, just days before Olson's wife Bobbi died of cancer, Armenta fought the illness with three surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy.


Through her own struggles, Armenta never wanted people to feel sorry for her. She was always thinking of others, coworker Marissa Elias-Castaneda said.


""She was taking care of everyone else and you would have never known that she was battling because she kept everything to herself,"" Elias-Castaneda said. ""(She was) very private about it and never wanted anyone to feel sorry for her.""


And she never felt sorry for herself, either.


In fact, Benitez said her daughter took her illness in stride, bonding with Carlos Valencia, a 16-year-old Salpointe Catholic High School student who died of leukemia in 2004.


""They (had) a very strong bond,"" Benitez said. ""(Armenta) said, ‘You know Mom, better me than him. … Let it be me. I'll take it.'""


In the office, Armenda was just as selfless, assisting Olson from 2005-08. But whenever other employees needed a hand, she was always there for them, too.


Former coworker Stella Montante said Armenta's helpfulness around the office continued into their off-time, where the two and their group of friends would celebrate birthday parties at Frog 'n Firkin.


But during casual conversations, she would never lose her friendliness.

""If you asked her if she wanted to gossip, she wouldn't gossip,"" Montante said, laughing. ""She was just a great friend.""


As for Benitez, the loss of her daughter was a longwinded road. While Armenta was having an MRI two Wednesday's ago, her mother had a realization: Sometimes, fighting the inevitable isn't needed.


Reading an article in the Arizona Daily Star, Benitez realized that allowing nature to take its course was for the best.


""We had been fighting and fighting to keep her alive and in (the article it) talked about, sometimes, we have to recognize that death is trying to run its course,"" Benitez said. ""Let's not poke her anymore, no more injections in the stomach, no more chemo. We're just going to start concentrating on the quality of her life to her death.""

""She was at peace when she died.""


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UA COVID-19 Test Tracker

Daily (9/19)
1,299 79 6.1%
Total (8/4)
31,673 2,030 6.4%
Includes tests since August 4, 2020
Data from https://covid19.arizona.edu/updates
Updated September 19, 2020