Francesca Manzella is all too familiar with breast cancer. After watching her mom and aunt battle the disease more than a decade ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 at the age of 42.
“It was devastating,” said Manzella, of Aurora. “My boys were only 7 and 10; the idea of not being around to see them grow up terrified me.”
The mother of two and English teacher at East Aurora High School said she had amazing role models in her mom and aunt, both breast cancer survivors.
“They both beat it by staying positive and fighting with grace, so there was never any question that I’d do the same,” she said.
And fight it she did.
After a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, Manzella is not only a survivor, she’s a survivor on a mission, to raise funds and awareness for breast cancer.
“As a cancer survivor, I feel it’s my duty to give back,” she said. “By raising money, I am not only helping someone who may be suffering right now, but I may be making it possible for a cure to be found so no one has to ever suffer again.”
The Aurora resident said it was important for her to go public with her plight, and she did so from the very beginning.
“So many times you hear of people feeling they have to keep their diagnosis a secret; I felt the total opposite,” she said.
“I wanted everyone to know. I figured, the more people I tell, the more they might pray for my returned health.”
Current and former students prayed for her. East Aurora High held a flash mob in her honor when she returned to work. Co-workers of her husband, Ben, a teacher at Waubonsie Valley, raised money and donated gift cards to help with expenses.
“My friends and family here in Illinois were also a huge support,” said the 44-year-old. “They walked in the 2011 Susan G. Komen race in my honor, cooked meals, and basically cheered me on. The outpouring of support was so touching. I was, and still am, very, very blessed.”
Her husband Ben, a teacher at Waubonsie Valley High School, said his wife is an inspiration.
“Her faith inspired all of us,” he said. “What impressed me the most about her was her ability to still go to work and function at a high level. She was also able to help around the house even though she was tired. She was always upbeat and made sure our children had what they needed.”
Ben, in turn, did his part to “get healthy for my children.” He quit chewing tobacco, started eating healthier foods and exercising. He lost over 130 pounds.
“It was relatively easy for me to do those things because her determination inspired me to work hard to get myself healthier,” Manzella said.
On Sept. 22, he will join his wife as part of Team F3 — Fran, family and friends — during the 2013 Lombard Race for the Cure. She wasn’t able to participate last year because of her health, but this year, she’s ready to race.
“I believe that the Komen organization gives breast cancer survivors a sense of strength and pride,” she said. “I want to show others that it can be done. Cancer can be beat.”