Finding Strength During Cancer Battle
On the night of Marisa Manocchio’s 19th birthday, she and her mother, Tia, rented “My Sister’s Keeper,” a movie about a young girl’s battle with leukemia and her family’s struggle to keep her alive. Little did Manocchio know that three days later, she would face the same uphill battle.
On Jan. 11, 2010, the freshman integrated mathematics major and the oldest of three was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
Prior to her diagnosis, Manocchio noticed dots and bruises on her body. At first, doctors suspected she was anemic and had asthma. After multiple tests, doctors saw Manocchio’s blood count was low.
“The doctors pretty much knew from my low blood counts that I had cancer,” Manocchio said. “They took me to the oncology floor at Akron Children’s Hospital to be safe and ran tests to see if I had cancer.”
At 11 p.m., Manocchio, her mother and her mother’s best friend, Becky Doherty, a cancer survivor, patiently sat inside the hospital room before they discovered Manocchio had leukemia. When the doctor’s words reached Manocchio’s ears, she became overwhelmed as a thousand thoughts ran through her mind.
“I was scared,” Manocchio said. “I didn’t know what I was going to tell people, and I didn’t know how they were going to react. I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to be another one of those statistics about people who die from cancer.’”
As the news set in, Manocchio realized she wasn’t going to be another statistic and let the cancer beat her. She was going to beat it.
Following her diagnosis, Manocchio made sudden changes to her life. She could no longer work in downtown Kent at Home Savings Bank, she could no longer attend school and she had to limit herself to the number of people she was exposed to because her immune system was so weak.
“It was really hard at first because I am a workaholic,” Manocchio said. “Having to sit on a couch for five-and-a-half months watching the Food Network was hard as everyone else moved on with their lives, doing what they wanted to do.”
To help Manocchio make a smoother transition to her new lifestyle, doctors created a port embedded inside of Manocchio’s upper right chest, helping medications get through her body quicker.
During the beginning of chemotherapy, Manocchio said the hardest part was losing her long, dark hair.
Now, going into her seventh month of remission, Manocchio is getting back what she lost: living life to its fullest potential.
Making up for lost time
Manocchio served as the honorary chairperson of the Bras Across the Crooked River event, where bras were collected and then strung together with pink clothes pins across downtown Kent’s Cuyahoga River Bridge on Sept. 11.
When Manocchio was asked to chair the event, she didn’t have to think twice.
“I hadn’t done anything for a long time when I was asked to be the chairperson for Bras Across the Crooked River,” Manocchio said. “People have helped me through all of this, and I wanted a chance to help others the way I’ve been helped.”
Manocchio was also named honorary captain of the Kent State football team for the 2010 season. At a recent practice, the team presented her with an autographed jersey.
“The football team heard about the bra drive and wanted to get involved,” Manocchio said. “It’s been quite an experience with those guys. The team wanted to volunteer as a donation site, and it is great to see people really care.”
Family: The strongest muscle
Even though Manocchio is slowly getting back to her old routine, she would not be where she is today without the support and motivation from her family and friends.
In March, Manocchio’s 16-year-old sister, Maggie, organized a fundraiser for Manocchio at Kent Roosevelt High School’s pool where teammates on Maggie’s swim team swam laps for donations.
“I can never thank her enough for that,” Manocchio said.
Manocchio’s uncle, Justin Schweda, also showed how much he cared though actions rather than words. Schweda participated in the Pan Ohio Hope event, riding 325 miles from Cleveland to Cincinnati in support for Manocchio and Schweda’s sister-in-law, who is battling breast cancer. As a surprise, Manocchio met Schweda at the finish line with tears of gratitude and love.
“I hope people see that you have to have others to survive,” Manocchio said. “I could have never of done this alone. When I thought I wasn't going to make it, my boyfriend (Nick Thomas) would tell me that I was wrong. You have to keep going and put up a fight.”
Manocchio has two more years of chemotherapy, where treatment takes anywhere from one to seven hours. But for now, Manocchio is getting back to her busy, on-the-go lifestyle. She is back to work at Home Savings Bank, and in the spring, she will re-enroll at Kent State.
Though Manocchio is eager to get back to a normal life, she will always carry the wisdom grasped on this rollercoaster ride.
“I’ve learned through all of this that you have to have a good mindset even though the little voice inside is saying, ‘I can’t,’” Manocchio said. “Sometimes when you think you’re in a bad situation, there’s always someone else who had it worse. You have to live every day like it’s your last.”