Each October, swarms of pink flood fields across various high school, college and professional sporting events honoring those who have fought or are fighting breast cancer and to increase awareness of the 3.1 million people who have been affected.
During Breast Cancer Awareness month, each fall sport at Northwestern State University hosts a Fork Cancer game. These games hold a special meaning to different athletes if they know someone who has been affected.
Two such athletes that have family members affected by breast cancer are football defensive end Dannie Harmon and soccer forward Jacqueline Manza.
“I have [had] three aunts that I’m very close to battle breast cancer,” Harmon said. “Two survived their battles; we lost one two years ago.”
In 2009, Manza also lost a loved one to breast cancer.
“My mom was diagnosed around 2005, shortly after my brother was born. She fought it for some time,” she said.
Losing a loved one is never easy.
“It was really tough having to see [my] Aunt Angela go through that because you see her weaken every day. It hurt my heart to see her like that,” Harmon said.
“When my mom passed away, I took it pretty hard,” Manza said. “It didn’t seem real at first.”
The tough experiences Harmon and Manza have gone through has taught them lessons that they will carry for the rest of their lives.
“It taught me to not take things for granted. It’s the little memories,” Manza said. “Put effort and time into family, because that’s what matters the most.”
Harmon agreed with Manza.
“I learned that family will get you through the toughest times,” he said.
Breast cancer affected Harmon and Manza not just in their personal lives, but on the field as well.
“It gave me a different type of drive; I credit that to why my work ethic is so high,” Harmon said. “It pushed me to a different level, [and] it made me understand that you have to give full effort through everything because you could lose everything at any point in time.”
“It gave me a different kind of fight and purpose when I play,” Manza said. “She may not be in the stands, but I feel like I have to do better because she’s watching down on me.”
Both Harmon and Manza have their own special ways to remember their loved ones.
“Whenever I make a big play, I cross my heart and point up to the sky for my grandmother, my mother and my aunt,” Harmon said. “I have them here in my heart… This is where I hold them at, and this is where I play for them… That’s why I give my all, because I play with my heart.”
While Harmon said he doesn’t wear any article of clothing or accessory, Manza explained her own homage to her mother.
“On my cleats I have ‘mom’ sown on, [and] during the month of October, I have a pink sweat band that I wear every game [with] the date my mom died,” she said. “I also have a tattoo on my foot that says ‘never stop dreaming, love mom’ in her handwriting with a starfish next to it.”
Harmon said he remembers seeing his aunt with a smile on her face even through the toughest of times – something he hopes those who are fighting try to do.
“Continue to battle and be strong; keep a smile on your face, and always believe in hope,” he said. “You always have to have hope through these things, and if you have hope, anything is possible.”