Portland Winterhawks and Keith Dwiggins

The Manneks: Beating cancer was like running a race I never signed up for

“I had cancer, cancer never had me.”

A little over a year ago, near the end of the 2018 WHL playoffs, the lives of Mason Mannek, his mom Sharmin, and his family were all about to change.

“I was in Spokane when I found a lump in my breast. I returned to Salt Lake City and begged my doctor for a diagnostic mammogram. The hospital’s schedule was two weeks out. I was persistent and was able to get in two days later. My mammogram turned into a scan, which turned into a biopsy. Although the results would not return for seven days, the doctor said, ‘I do this work every day, and I’m 90% sure you have breast cancer.’ It’s the news you never want to hear,” Sharmin explained. “I rarely feel lost, confused, or scared. At that moment, I was all three.” 

Game changer.

Sharmin continued, “My first phone call was my husband. We were both in disbelief.” 

Sharmin sat on the curb at the hospital and sobbed. Brandon and Sharmin decided not to tell anyone until the official results were in. They also had made the decision that their children would be the first to know. The Winterhawks were still in the playoffs, and they knew that news like this would affect Mason’s play. So, they kept it quiet. 

On Friday, April 13th, 2018, Sharmin received a callback from the doctor confirming she did indeed have cancer. That evening, with a 4-0 loss to the Everett Silvertips, the playoffs ended for Portland.  

Although the season had concluded, there were end-of-year formalities to be completed before the players returned home for the summer. 

Mason Mannek, a 2000-born, Utah native, was still in high school. Credits had to be transferred from his school in Portland to Utah. The team also conducts exit interviews. In years past, this process took seven to ten days. 

Sharmin phoned Sue Johnson, the team’s education advisor, who Sharmin called, “the most amazing person ever.” 

Sue Johnson and Sharmin Mannek at 2018 Training Camp (Photo Courtesy of Sharmin Mannek)

Sue is a former high school counselor — now retired — who has worked with hockey players for 25-30 years. Winterhawks head coach Mike Johnston asked her to join the team once she retired. Sue says her role now includes “working closely with the players’ own schools if they want to graduate from home, or I help transition them to graduate in Oregon.” 

The conversation between Sue and Sharmin was about how Mason’s dad, Brandon, was on his way to pick Mason up from Portland the following Monday. However, Sue’s response was, “He can’t go home yet. We have a lot to do with school, exit interviews, etc.” Sharmin then paused, and said, “Sue, I have cancer. I need my son home. I can’t go forward until I tell him.” 

Silence.

After a few moments of neither one speaking, Sharmin recalled what Sue said to her next. “I had no idea. Do you know I just finished chemo? I had a 2% chance of living, and you’re going to be fine. Your son will be ready to come home. I will get everything done, and he’ll be ready on Tuesday for your husband to pick him up.” 

Sharmin knew Sue understood and would speed up the process. Which she did. 

Sue fast-forwarded everything for Mason. “When his mother called me about her diagnosis, and the fact she wanted Mason home so he could be there for her surgery and she could talk with him, I immediately stepped up. I got his teachers to agree to let him (go) home after the season ended so he could finish his courses online at home. When everybody heard what happened, without telling him, (they) were more than happy to help. He was such a great student, great person. There was no way they were going to stop him.” 

Why was it so important for Sue to make sure Mason could leave early? “On a personal basis, having gone through it myself, knowing the impact that my cancer had on my son, my own sons, I knew this was not only important to her but also important for Mason to be with her,” Sue said. 

“Everybody just hustled and made it happen. He didn’t know why we were doing it. That was kind of a crazy thing, because the other high school players — I was making them stay. Mason was like, ‘What is happening?’ I can’t even remember exactly what I said — maybe ‘there is something happening at home, and they need you there.’ Of course I didn’t want to say anything. It just worked out beautifully, because it was really, really important to his mom.” 

Thanks to Sue, Mason was making the trip back to Utah with his dad. 

Sharmin recalled the memory. “My husband was finally driving my son home. Mason was sad the season was over but excited to get home and see his sisters and animals. I was in Utah waiting for their arrival, knowing the news I had to share would change our family forever.”

Sharmin and Brandon wanted to have a timeline before they broke the bad news to their children. They met with her surgeon and formulated her plan. The plan would include a double mastectomy with lymph node removal, six rounds of chemotherapy, a hysterectomy, and reconstruction. 

“When you go through this, you kind of write your obituary. I hate to say that, but you wonder if you’re going to be at your kids’ graduation,” Sharmin expressed. “Are you going to be at training camp? Are you going to be able to not (just) be alive, but feel good enough?” 

Sharmin’s outlook was only focused on beating cancer. “I never thought this was going to get me. I was really positive.” 

However, telling her three kids was perhaps one of the hardest situations Sharmin had faced, and it was just as difficult for her kids — Mason (19), Makayla (16), and Maclee (12) — to hear. 

Mason Mannek (Photo: Portland Winterhawks and Keith Dwiggins)

“I remember it was just a normal evening here in Utah,” Mason shared. “My sister’s friends were over, and my dad says, ‘Hey, you guys have to go. We are having a family meeting.’ I just remember looking at my sister Makayla like, ‘What the heck did we do wrong, and so wrong that we have a family meeting?’ I thought we were in trouble.” 

In the family meeting, he recalled hearing his mom say that she had cancer, but also, “I’m going to be alright.” However, Mason said, “It was probably 20 seconds between (sentences), but it felt like it was more about 10 years. I just remember she said the word cancer, and it’s associated with the worst possible words you could think. The things running through my head were pretty awful. You’re also fighting tears quite a bit too.” 

In the moments following, Mason’s response was powerful. “My mom’s preached this to us our whole life: ‘Everything is what it is, there’s nothing you can do about situations but we choose how we react! Everything happens for a reason.’ So it is my duty that I look at her and say, ‘You got this. We got this.’”

Sharmin echoed what Mason said, adding, “He just looked at me, came over to me, put his arm around me, and said, ‘Mom, you got this. We got this.’” 

Left – Surgery morning photo. Right – Went home to recover (Photo Courtesy of Sharmin Mannek)

She continued with how each of her kids responded differently to her sharing the horrible news. “All of my life, I’ve been telling them, ‘You got this. You can do hard things.’ All of a sudden, the tables have turned, and here Mason was giving me my own advice.” 

While positivity rang through the Mannek household, so did the unknown. 

“Cancer. It’s a scary word,” Sharmin expressed. “As I said before, when you hear that word, you kind of write your obituary. For a brief moment I just wondered. I wondered if I would watch my kids graduate or attend training camp. I didn’t just want to be alive, I wanted to feel good! 

“My kids had no idea. When I said I’m having surgery, they had no idea I was coming home with drains in me. I wasn’t going to be able to drive, wasn’t going to be able to work and complete the simple walks around the street. When I was my children’s ages, I had no idea what breast cancer, or mastectomy was. I just knew it was bad. Our family became educated very quickly. We talk about everything in our home. I welcomed any questions and sometimes we researched the answers together.” 

Everything has changed and the importance of journaling

“I mean, I run marathons. I’m super healthy. Although being healthy and taking care of myself didn’t keep me from getting cancer, it was instrumental in the healing process. I am a firm believer in exercise! Everything I read told me cancer hated oxygen and loved sugar. I made sure and gave it a good dose of oxygen everyday,” Sharmin said. 

First Chemo (Photo Courtesy of Sharmin Mannek)

Once Mason was home in Utah, Sharmin had surgery, and within a couple of weeks had a mastectomy. Thus began the healing process, which started with the “first four weeks.”

Sharmin explained why she felt those four weeks were awesome. “I was out of work, and we received a large amount of flowers. The outpouring of people from Portland, my family, and friends was just amazing. Having a good support system made it better.” 

Four weeks after surgery, she had returned to work and the process of getting stronger before chemo would start. 

The Manneks’ entire summer changed. They had a family trip to Costa Rica planned for Mason’s high school graduation, which was put on hold. 

Instead, Sharmin went through six rounds of chemo starting on June 27, 2018, and lost 25 pounds. 

Every morning before chemo, Sharmin got up at 5:00 AM to go running. Chemo was every three weeks. She always felt her best a couple days before her next infusion. Mason ran with her for the first three rounds of chemo before he had to return to Portland’s training camp. The last three pre-chemo runs were with friends and family. No one let her run the morning of chemo alone.

Friends showing up at 5:00 AM to run on last day of Chemo (Photo Courtesy of Sharmin Mannek)

Sharmin shared how “on my last chemo, I went outside my home at 5:00 AM, and 20 of my closest friends were there to run with me!”

“I don’t remember ever being in pain. I was plenty uncomfortable, but 12 minutes of exercise relieved the pressure of even the worst headache.”

Instead, she kept a journal. “By keeping that journal, I knew I was okay on day two, day three I got foggy, day four I probably need to stay close to home, and by ten I could run again.” Her journal also helped her keep track of her food and water intake, both of which are extremely important to Sharmin.

“By keeping the journal, it made each (day) not easier, but at least I knew what to expect on the next round.” 

“I literally could not eat. I could not keep food down me at all. It is a simple math problem — you put fuel in your body, and that’s how you have fuel. I could not keep any food in, which is why I was so weak and kept losing weight.”

Sharmin elaborated, “Day four is where I started to lose my taste buds. I couldn’t taste, and so all of a sudden, the only reason I was mentally trying to make myself fuel myself was to stay alive.” 

This reminded her of a saying on her mom’s refrigerator when she was younger: ‘You eat to live, you don’t live to eat,’ and she remained focused. “It ran through my head the whole time because I knew I had to force something into my body. When I would get dehydrated, I would drive myself to the hospital and get an IV of fluids.”

Some days were better than others. Sharmin explained, “There were times I still pushed through and went to work. It was hard, but as a parent, we constantly ask hard things of our children. I wanted to be an example to them. I stayed positive and controlled what I could.” 

Prior to the first surgery

Sharmin had her surgery May 7, 2018, but the weekend prior marked a day which proved to be instrumental in her story. However, at the time, the weight of the situation was heavy for Mason. 

Mason Mannek (Photo: Brian Liesse)

“The weekend before her surgery, my mom and dad were planning and went to the Kentucky Derby, just to get her mind off things. This has been a bucket list for her,” Mason began, recalling the memory. “(Back home) it was my girlfriend, my two sisters, and I home alone that weekend. I remember feeling pretty restless. During the day, you put a smile on your face, and you don’t talk about it. I tried to get my sisters to not think about everything and not let them know maybe the severity of what’s about to happen. For me, it was kind of just putting on that smile that you know deep down isn’t a real smile, but I’m taking them to do things to get their minds off of the situation until I’m alone. I had a lot of talks with my girlfriend over that weekend.” 

Sharmin and Brandon were attending the Kentucky Oaks. This is the day prior to the Kentucky Derby. Although they anticipated a great time, they were not aware it was Breast Cancer Day at the track and everyone wore Pink. Sharmin said, “As 144 survivors walked in the survivor parade, I’m standing there with breast cancer! I knew I had to come home two days later and have a mastectomy. These warriors gave me hope! They had battled what I was about to go through and survived!”

Hand-in-hand with her husband, Sharmin looked over at Brandon and said, “I’m going to be a survivor. I’m going to walk in that parade. We’ve got this!” 

In recalling the memory, Sharmin said, “You can only imagine the range of emotions our family was experiencing. In a single day, we were sad, hopeful, confused, and even angry. Mason was holding it together for me and his sisters, but I know him well. I explained it’s ok to feel all these emotions. The difficult part was these were emotions I couldn’t fix.” 

A new hockey season begins

Sharmin went through three rounds of chemo before Mason returned to Portland for training camp. 

Mason and his mom Sharmin after the 2018 home opener (Photo Courtesy of Sharmin Mannek)

She talked about Mason’s return. “Mason was headed back to Portland more determined, stronger, and more focused than the year before. It had been anything but a normal summer, but I assured him I was going to beat this! He needed to focus on his goals that he had been working toward his whole life!”

Portland’s training camp includes the annual Neely Cup, where four intersquad teams play head-to-head in a round-robin tournament before the championship and third-place games occur on the last day. Neely Cup and training camp are things Sharmin looks forward to every year. 

Thinking back to the first conversation with her kids, she wasn’t sure if she would feel good enough to be able to attend, but she did, as it was the week before her next chemo. Sharmin made her way to Portland. “I cried the whole plane ride to Portland. It was one of those things I didn’t know if I was going to do. But I did!”

(Photo Courtesy of Sharmin Mannek)

Mason explained, “It was very hard for me to be away from the family when she was going through that, because through social media and whatnot, you’re kind of seeing something you feel like you should be there for.”

However, Sharmin would not have had it any other way. “The thing that makes you the most happy as a parent is to see your kids happy and want your kids to keep their life as normal as possible. The last thing I would have ever wanted is for Mason’s play to be affected or anything. I think he knew I would want him to go there and figure it out. He knew I was okay. I kept telling him, ‘I’m fine Mason.’ Thank goodness we have the technology we have so we were able to keep in touch on a daily basis. He would FaceTime me when I was in chemo. I remember sitting here, not feeling very good, watching games, and it would brighten my day. I love it! I wouldn’t have wanted it any different. I didn’t want his focus to be anywhere but where it was.” 

Cancer Free!

October 9, 2018: the day Sharmin was deemed cancer free! 

Ringing the “I’m done with Chemo” bell (Photo Courtesy of Sharmin Mannek)

Mason remembers the day well. “For her last chemo treatment, where she rang the bell, we were at practice in the (Winterhawks) Skating Center. I was in (all my hockey gear) and I talked to Mike (Johnston) — Winterhawks head coach & general manager — and Don (Hay) — Winterhawks assistant coach — and they let me use FaceTime so I could watch it all happen. That was the most uncomfortable cry I’ve ever had in my life. Afterwards, Mike took me into the (locker room), and then all the guys got to say congrats to my mom. That meant a lot to me. I was super blessed for the support system I had, because that was a moment I didn’t want to miss.” 

“I was so happy we got to experience that moment together,” Sharmin said.

Seeing and hearing his mom diagnosed cancer-free did not shock Mason, as he described how strong she is. “One thing about her — even before this — was, my whole life, she’s probably the toughest person I’ve ever met, seriously.” 

He gave two specific examples. First, “She runs and runs. For her 40th birthday she ran 40 half marathons within a year. I mean, she’s crazy like that.” 

The second story was from when he was younger. “There’s a couple of times that she’s beat me up pretty good. We were in Minnesota for a hockey tournament — maybe 10- or 11-years-old — but I was kind of being a smart alec to her. She seriously picked me up and folded me like a pretzel and threw me in the garbage can. She’s an animal, even before this whole cancer thing. She’s the toughest person I’ve ever met in my life.” 

Sharmin’s only comment back was, “We don’t allow disrespect at our house.” 

A supportive Winterhawks team, but hockey was an escape

Being away from your family when a loved one is going through a difficult situation is challenging enough. Doing so as an 18-year-old, while focusing on Major Junior hockey, adds another dynamic entirely.

Don Hay (Photo: Portland Winterhawks/Ben Ludeman)

Mason is thankful for his teammates, coaches, and the organization, but especially Portland’s assistant coach Don Hay. “A big shout out to Don Hay. He was huge for me. He always had an open door. He was kind of the guy I trusted most. I could talk to him whenever I needed it, whether it was about my mom or something else. Having him being able to talk to me whenever I needed it meant a lot to me. We had some other family things come up (later in the year), and Don was great. I think when things got super significant, he was good about talking to Mike (Johnston) about it as well when I didn’t feel ready or comfortable. Don was definitely my guy.” 

Mason’s teammates were helpful as well. “They were great. When you’re with a group of people for as long as we are, you become a family. They were really good about recognizing the significance of the situation. One — giving me space that I needed, but also two — being there when I needed to talk.” 

Many times with the team, Mason “kept the situation on the down low because obviously we have games. We are at the rink all the time, but they were great when I needed it. The biggest was when they all said congrats to my mom while they were on speaker phone.” 

With the severity of what his mom was dealing with back in Utah, Mason viewed hockey as his escape. 

“It has always been that way. Hockey is my passion. When you’re playing, you just forget about everything. As much as I want to think about everything and all that, when I got to the rink it was just about hockey. I think that’s the way my mom wanted it as well. Being there with the guys was my escape.”

Mason Mannek (Portland Winterhawks/Keith Dwiggins)

The value of escape was something Mason needed. “Even though I probably wasn’t as vocal about everything to the guys as I could have been, I just got my mind off everything at the rink. The rink reminded me how blessed I am to be in the position I’m in. When you see someone as close as your mom go through something like this, it’s eye opening. It just makes you think twice about how lucky you really are when there’s people that have to go through this on a daily basis.”

Mason felt he didn’t want to take hockey “for granted anymore, use it as an escape to be my best, and use it as motivation to do what I can to help the team win.” 

Also in the Manneks’ corner were Mason’s billets, Barrett & Samara Adams, along with their two kids, Brendan and Cale.

“We are so blessed with a wonderful billet family for Mason! We love the Adamses! They are such a blessing in our life. We will be friends for the rest of our lives,” Sharmin commented. “You have to be a billet for the right reason. You become a family.”

Mason talked about the role the Adamses played for him during the difficult time. “They were absolutely amazing. I can never say enough about them. My family and they get along great. They were always sending flowers to my mom, calling her, texting her, and making sure she’s alright. They were also always asking me what they could do. They’re amazing people.” 

Ultimately Sharmin knew “Mason was going to be okay at that house. The Adamses were unreal, just unreal.” 

Finding light amongst the darkness

As Sharmin made her way through treatments, she battled not only the physical side, but also the mental side.

Although chemo presents challenging times, Sharmin “found exercise, sunshine, and laughter to be the best medicine. Despite the pounding headaches and feeling sick, medicine was not the answer. It just masked my symptoms.” 

She just turned towards her running. 

Running through Chemo (Photo Courtesy of Sharmin Mannek)

“I would be so sick,” Sharmin explained. “The only thing I could do was to run, but I couldn’t run far from my house because I would get sick. I would run up and down my street, and it was around 12 minutes after I would start running (that) the dopamine and adrenaline in your body would release the pressure out of my head. This made me feel the best.” 

Mason continued his training all summer long as he worked with a personal trainer. All of the Mannek kids tried to keep as normal a schedule as possible. 

“The really important thing for me was (for) my kids to stay as normal as they could. I wanted to keep our schedule normal. I wanted them to stay with their goals, Mason training, my girls train their horses. I didn’t want this to be a crutch. I didn’t want people to think, ‘Oh, Mason’s mom has cancer, or Makayla’s mom has cancer.’ It is not a sympathy train for me at all.” 

As the Manneks kept up the physical side of their life, Sharmin needed to make an adjustment mentally. 

“I’m the one that wants to take flowers, dinners, and help. All of a sudden I had people bringing our family food, helping us, having flowers and cards arrive. I had to learn to let people help me. However, it was on that day — a day I would feel the worst — when a card would show up, and it would have encouragement. My phone would ring, and it would be Sue Johnson asking me how I was. I’m so thankful for the support system I had.” 

Sue talked about staying in touch with Sharmin. “I kept up with her throughout the summer to see if she was okay. We checked in with each other text-wise, especially during our treatments, just to see how each other was and to get updates. We developed this bond as we went through treatment together; different kinds of cancer, but chemo. We helped each other up. It’s just a very special, special bond. I think cancer survivors understand that. It is kind of a unique community.” 

Hawks Fight Cancer

On November 3, 2018 — less than one month from when Sharmin was declared cancer-free — the Portland Winterhawks hosted Hawks Fight Cancer night against the Victoria Royals. Prior to the game, a ceremony honored those who have survived cancer and those who passed away. 

This night was special, but it was also one which almost didn’t include the Manneks.

Hawks Fight Cancer (Photo: Portland Winterhawks and Keith Dwiggins)

“It was a hard night, it really was,” Mason recounted, telling his side of the evening. “It was almost too soon honestly. I didn’t like to talk about everything with the guys because I didn’t want them to be sympathetic for whatever reason, but when that night happens, that’s the main topic of conversation.”

All this said, Mason beamed with pride. “I’m super grateful, though, because people like Sue and my mom got recognized. They deserved that more than anything; they deserved to be recognized in front of all those people. Everyone in attendance deserved to know what my mom overcame in such a short period of time.” 

From Sharmin’s perspective, “I had to change my mind set. I didn’t want people being sympathetic or treating #26 (Mason’s jersey number) different. I wanted Mason to be held to the same standards regardless of his mom overcoming Cancer.”

“I have to think about this is not for me, this isn’t about me, this is about helping other people. Just like those 144 survivors, I can give others hope! Sharing my story might help somebody else — maybe even give them the strength to fight a battle, even if it’s not cancer. Sometimes, people just need inspiration. If I can be that for somebody — maybe just one person in that crowd — then my job was done.” 

Hawks Fight Cancer (Photo Courtesy: Portland Winterhawks)

So, prior to the opening faceoff, Sharmin Mannek and Sue Johnson stood next to one another — cancer survivors — as the team skated by, congratulating and hugging them, while 3,361 Winterhawks fans in attendance applauded. 

Sue recalled the experience. “I didn’t even think twice about it. The players for me — not only Mason, but all of them — really were an integral part of my recovery. I kept coming to the rink throughout my treatment, and I’d lost my hair and all this stuff. These boys would come up to me every day and give me hugs, tell me I look beautiful. They would ask me how I was doing and tell me, ‘You got this, you got this.’ You know, the athletic mentality kind of thing. (This night) was a no brainer for me. I was honored to be out there, as they had been part of my life all year as I was going through treatment.”

“Mike (Johnston) let me start the game,” Mason explained. “I was the last guy in the tunnel (and down the line), so I got to give my mom a hug before (the game).” 

The night for Mason was only beginning. Not only did he tie his season-high for shots on goal in a game with seven, he also dropped the gloves and fought D-Jay Jerome of Victoria.

“I remember that game in particular. I’m a smaller guy, five-foot-eight or five-foot-nine whatever, but I felt like I was six-foot-five that night. I got into the fight because my mom fought for so long, and it was my turn now. I don’t know if she agreed with it or liked it. She fought through cancer, so I fought for her. It was emotional.”  

For the record, Sharmin was not a fan of the fight. 

Mannek is listed at five-foot-eight, 157 pounds, while his combatant Jerome stands six-foot-two, 180 pounds.

It is not the size of the man in the fight, but rather the size of the fight in the man. 

Kentucky Derby Survivors Parade

As a cancer survivor, the next goal on Sharmin’s list was to return to the Kentucky Derby and walk in the Survivors Parade on May 3, 2019, like she witnessed a year prior. 

In order for the dream to be realized, she first had to be nominated. Then she had to receive enough votes to finish in the top 145 across the United States. Only the top 145 walk in the parade each year — a tremendous opportunity.

List of names on Sharmin’s Survivors Parade sash (Photo Courtesy of Sharmin Mannek)

Sharmin explained exactly what transpired next. “As it approached, I had to have a hysterectomy in January, then reconstruction in February. With 2,053 votes, that got me a spot in the derby. When I won, I knew I was able to go, but it wasn’t about me. I threw it out there on social media and had people comment to me the names of people that had survived, haven’t survived, or anybody that had been affected by cancer in their life.” 

The response to her social media was 145 different names. “I put the names on two different sashes and wore it at the Survivors Parade,” Sharmin said. “Sue’s name is on it, and I sent her a message saying, ‘I’m walking for you today girl!’ My mom’s a survivor, so her’s name on it, lots of my clients, 145 total names. I was determined to walk for those who can’t.”

Sue talked about being included with Sharmin and the Survivors Parade. “I was so honored when she told me. I was overwhelmed emotionally about that; just so honored. (Sharmin) is a wonderful woman. She is so brave and strong. Sharmin is an inspiration to me — that’s for sure. If I do the Susan G. Komen run this year, I’ll do the same thing for her; I’ll run for her.” 

Kentucky Derby Survivors Parade (Photo Courtesy of Sharmin Mannek)

Sharmin continued her story. “It was that last lap around the track for me, I did it. The race was symbolic because one thing I’ve always said, ‘Beating cancer was like running a race I never signed up for.’ I was able to do that, but also not make it about me. I got to walk for people that couldn’t. That was really special for me because it wasn’t about me. I was really grateful I could walk for others.”

Mason wanted to express his sincerest gratitude. “We had super strong friends and family who helped her get those votes. This might be the best way to say thank you to all the fans and everyone in the organization who voted for her. I don’t know how to reach out to everyone, but I saw a lot of social media, whether it was fans or someone who works for the Winterhawks; thank you for helping her get those votes. That parade meant a lot to her and my family. So again, I say thank you. I can never repay everyone who voted. It just meant so much to us.” 

Up next for the Manneks

Now, over a year later, Sharmin explained how she and her family are moving forward. “Every day is a gift. I still have doctor appointments; I just don’t have a standing one at the hospital, which is really awesome. I had my very last one and all my blood labs done; everything was awesome. I walked out of there, and I now carry on life. I’m so happy and excited. I’m not the type of person who looks back and wonders ‘what if?’ I’m just not that person. I’m excited for the future. There is a reason the windshield is so big and the rearview mirror is small. It’s important for us to look forward and be grateful for the trials that made us the person we are today.”

Not only is she excited for her own future, but also her family’s. “We’ve got a lot going on. We don’t wonder if — we wonder when. We are carrying on business as usual. The Manneks are stronger, we’re better, we do hard things, we’re going to be more empathetic with the world, we’re going to be better people.”

The Manneks summer redo (Photo Courtesy of Sharmin Mannek)

The Costa Rica trip they planned in 2018 occurred one summer later. They returned from their “summer redo” in June. 

Sharmin explained how “this isn’t my defining moment. I do a lot of awesome things, and I run and own businesses. There is better coming, I promise. Our family has a lot to offer and bring to the world!  This makes me the most happy to see my kids are doing what they love. I had cancer; cancer never had me.” 

For Mason, doing what he loves means playing and training for hockey. He hasn’t taken a day off from training since returning from Costa Rica. 

Sharmin commented how 2019 is different for Mason. “He is in full-on mode right now, and he’s going to come back stronger mentally and physically than he’s ever been before. This will be his strongest year yet. I’m sending him back his very best, and we have no crutches. Mason is coming back very invested and (will) have a great season, just like the team is going to have a great season. He is on the older side of the team now; Mason is no longer a rookie. He’s a great kid, got his stuff together, focused, got a goal, and we all are here to support him. So, I’m sending him back his very best, and I know Portland will take care of him.” 

Advice to others

After beating cancer, the Manneks are focused on their new normal. Both Sharmin and Mason spoke about how they hope that, by sharing their story, someone else may benefit. 

Sharmin commented, “Every storm has to run out of rain, and I feel like it stopped raining; we’re ready to roll. The storm is over, and it is time for hockey season and (to) get back to life. You walk away from a situation like this and you’re a better person, a stronger person. I feel just me being that person for someone else is awesome right now.” 

She shared a quick story about visiting the gym when she was going through chemo. “I go to the gym a lot, and there are lines of treadmills. I was on my treadmill trying to just get through an easy run. That is when it really occurred to me that everyone is battling something. The guy next to me, maybe he is rehabbing a knee. Maybe the lady next to me is having a bad day at work. The other guy over there is fighting depression or whatever. Everyone is fighting something. What this taught me is kindness, taught me to be more empathetic with people, especially with things that aren’t visual to us because our world seems to be that way.” 

Sharmin’s advice also extends to healthcare. “Get a second opinion and ask questions. Be in control of your healthcare, yourself, run your show. Don’t wait for things to happen — make them happen.” 

A quote which inspires her reads, “Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future.”

“Surround yourself by good people, a good team, good co-workers, and by your family. Surround yourself with positive people who can help you get through these things,” Sharmin expressed. 

“In turn, I promise you, you’ll find yourself on the other side of that at some point helping someone else. My goal when I was done with this was I really wanted to help people. If you wonder how so and so is doing, send them a text. Be more aware of people and more aware of your surroundings, because that just might be the day they’re having a bad day. Acknowledge those things, feelings, and thoughts you have, because those got me through some of my worst days.”

Sharmin Mannek & Sue Johnson (Photo Courtesy of Sharmin Mannek)

Some of those worst days for Sharmin were lifted up by Sue, who said, “You’ve gone through cancer treatments, and you’ve reached the point where you’re not angry about it. You go through all the stages of grief. I think there’s a purpose, you have a purpose you’re not aware of when you’re first going through treatment. That purpose is to help others that might be going through something similar. Maybe for me it’s meant to be supportive of other people that go through cancer and share my experience so they may not be as afraid as I was. I’m sure (Sharmin) feels the same way.”  

Mason’s advice echoes what his mom mentioned. “The biggest thing for me is empathy. From an outsider looking in, you don’t realize someone’s got it worse.” 

He also talked about the importance of smiling. “Keep a smile on your face; be the light for whoever is dealing with something. You might not be able to control the situation that someone is going through, or you’re going through; you can always control your attitude. Putting a smile on your face, being happy, goes a long way for a lot of people. Reach out to someone to see if they need something. Be the person they can trust and call.” 

Mason mentioned that, for him, his smile was important for being there for his mom, dad, and sisters. “It is about being there for them. We are a tight group, and I’m thankful for that.” 

Additional Thank You

Both Sharmin and Mason were incredibly thankful for the support system they have, along with all the friends and family who stood by them during this time. Throughout, they have expressed gratitude to the people who played a key role in their story.

Sharmin said, “I’ve learned from beating cancer, the world is still full of kindness. We need to take care of our mental and physical self daily! To get results in life, we have to stay focused and set goals! Sooner or later we all have to do hard things!”

Sue is thankful for both Mason and Sharmin. “She (is) an inspiration to me and in her level of activity. The fact she continued to run — I’m a pretty active person, but I’m not a marathon runner like that — she didn’t let it stop her. That was pretty phenomenal. I feel honored to have her as a friend; I will just say that. It goes beyond a staff member/parent thing. I feel close to Mason too.” 

Mason Mannek (Portland Winterhawks/Keith Dwiggins)

Mason said, “Without my family support, I don’t think it would have been what it was. I’m so grateful my mom is as strong as she is. Seeing her go through this was awful, but at the same time, if there was going to be anyone in our family to get through it the way she did, it was going to be her. She’s a true Hockey Mom!” 

He continued with how much his dad meant to him during this time, and Sharmin fully agrees. Mason said, “100 percent without him, everything, including the dynamic of my family, would have been a lot more difficult. He taught me a lot, watching him go through this, more than I could ever put into words.” 

When everything was over Mason sent his dad a text. “When it was all said and done, I remember texting and congratulating him because my mom and him both beat cancer. I will be forever grateful for the love and support he continually gave my mom whenever she needed it.” 

Final Thoughts

The Manneks beat cancer and are now in their new normal. Sharmin made it very clear this is not her defining moment — the best is yet to come. She didn’t sign up for this race, but she sure ran it well.

You can follow Sharmin on social media,

https://www.instagram.com/longhairblonde/

https://twitter.com/mannek_sharmin

 

I want to say thank you to Sharmin, Mason, the entire Mannek family, and Sue Johnson for trusting me to tell your story.

Home Forums The Manneks: Beating cancer was like running a race I never signed up for

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