When Brandy Manville first heard that she had cancer, she froze in stunned silence. She sat next to her husband at the doctor’s office, expecting to hear she tested negative. The two even had plans to go out to dinner to celebrate being told she was cancer free.
“I remember sitting in shock,” Manville said. “I thought of my two kids and my husband. When you hear the word ‘cancer,’ you think it’s a death sentence.”
Manville, a long-time Portage resident, was just 37 when she was diagnosed with Stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma, the most prevalent form of breast cancer. When Brandy was in her early 30s, a nurse recommended that she get a yearly mammogram. This advice saved Manville’s life.
Manville said breast cancer does not run in the family and there was no obvious lump to indicate something was wrong. Mammograms are typically recommended for women age 40 and older, and Manville feels fortunate to have received one earlier.
“Mammograms save lives,” Manville said. “Women, at any age, should have one yearly. That’s what saved me; they wouldn’t have known otherwise. You just have to make yourself get one. Break down, be brave, go in and do it. The sooner you find out the better.”
For Manville, revealing the diagnosis to her children, Hailey and Ethan, was a difficult task. Of course, they were upset by the news, but they rallied behind their mother to help her fight.
“We tried to make it a family thing,” Manville said. “They helped me shave my head when I started losing my hair,”
Manville underwent a bilateral lumpectomy and 16 grueling rounds of chemotherapy. Four of those rounds are nicknamed the “red devil” for their severe side effects.
“I didn’t realize the hell I was going to be put through,” Manville said. “I did a lot of crying in the shower. I can’t believe I’m still here to talk about it.”
Manville said that her husband, Charlie, supported her during her darkest moments. Chemotherapy was painful and extremely taxing on her body. Manville’s husband reassured her, stressing how thankful he was for her life.
“As a woman, it’s hard to lose your hair,” Manville said. “Never once did I feel less loved. My family was awesome throughout my cancer journey. I was lucky to have them as a support system.”
Manville is an attendance secretary for Portage High School, but was not allowed to work while going through chemo. According to Manville, Deb Smith and Tracy Wood organized assistance that would allow her to focus on her health. There was a constant stream of hot meals and donations coming from all over Portage schools. These acts of kindness lifted Manville’s spirits. She also received a special memory book that contained encouraging words.
“Having cancer showed me the kindness and generosity of this community,” Manville said. “It makes you see the good in people. It’s unbelievable, the support we received.”
According to Manville, there are simple things people can do for friends and family living with cancer.
“Just be there, as corny as that sounds. Offer to drive them to chemo and then sit with them,” Manville said. "Don't say everything will be okay. Just be there."
Manville was treated by Dr. Mohamed Farhat-Michianai of Michiana Hematology-Oncology at Franciscan Health Crown Point. With no prior knowledge of what cancer treatment entails, she made sure to ask questions and record them in a notebook. She recommends those newly diagnosed to do the same, and to find a doctor that will spend time answering those questions.
“I learned to take it one step at a time, put all my ducks in a row, and ask questions and stay off Google!” Manville said. “Dr. Farhat never made me feel rushed, and the office staff was amazing. I also loved my surgeon, David Bleza.”
Manville is returning to the things she loves. She enjoys reading, cooking, going to the beach, traveling, and ushering her kids to all their activities. While cancer is never an easy diagnosis to face, Manville said that staying positive helped her survive the storm.
“To anyone going through this, know that the pain you feel will go away. Keep smiling and know you can get through this.”