Cristina Manieri’s gentle, melodic voice belies a well of strength and maturity. At 29, Cristina has been fighting a rare adversary in her tender adulthood that most young women cannot fathom—metastatic breast cancer. In spite of what she terms her “cancer burden,” Cristina immerses herself in meaningful work and cancer advocacy.
In 2004, she left Dallas, Texas, for her dream job as director of the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge in Nashville after completing treatment three years earlier for breast cancer. Within three months of her arrival, Cristina received news that her cancer had recurred. Determined and courageous, she has undergone weekly chemotherapy treatments and three separate radiation plans during the past year and a half.
In her role as Hope Lodge director, Cristina ensures the comfort, safety, and transportation to treatment for patients who must travel to Nashville for cancer therapy. From her personal experiences, Cristina offers the profound, intangible gift of knowing where her guests have been emotionally and spiritually because she is on a similar journey of continuing treatment and healing. Her gift is a real and palpable bond between host and guest.
“When we first visited the Hope Lodge in September 2005, Cristina dropped everything to give us a warm welcome and tour,” says Sue Blalock of Murray, Kentucky, a guest of the Hope Lodge for six weeks. “When we discovered her own struggles, we were amazed by the inspirational role she plays at the Lodge. We will never forget how one day, when Cristina had received news of her own upsetting health setback, she orchestrated a beautiful going-away party for a 5-year-old little girl who had completed treatment and was going home. In spite of her own anxiety, Cristina carried the party off with grace, tenderness, and professionalism. The little guest of honor fell asleep in Cristina’s arms, a memory of comfort and selfless caring that Hope Lodge guests will never forget.”
As a participant at The Foundation’s 2005 and 2006 Young Adult Cancer Survivor Retreats, Cristina has valued the retreat as a safe, authentic environment where other young adults understand each other’s stories. They are familiar with the pain of feeling alone and isolated because of cancer treatment. Cristina’s close work with young adults in her former role as a higher education administrator has naturally lent itself to her support of fellow retreat participants.
“Finally…I found a place where people can relate…others who are my age, share a similar story,” says Cristina. “We are able to laugh together, but also talk about the ‘hard stuff’ associated with cancer. It is a time filled with emotions and memories that are everlasting.”
Cristina possesses more wisdom and maturity than most her age because of her cancer journey. She confronts the barriers that cancer presents, courageously moving from weekly treatments to her responsibilities at the Hope Lodge without ever asking “why me?” Cristina has established an unforgettable legacy of strength and inspiration both as a cancer care proponent and cancer survivor in the Nashville community. And through the Young Adult Cancer Survivor Retreats, Cristina Manieri’s idealistic influence will continue to encourage her fellow participants and the lives they touch.
In memory of Cristina Manieri, who passed away since this story was published. We are honored to have shared in Cristina’s journey.