Brandon walk brings community together, honours mom who lived with brain tumour for 17 years

Brandi Massina died in December 2023 after living for 17 years with a brain tumour.

Her daughter, Onix Collette, channelled her grief into a Saturday walk in southwestern Manitoba honouring her mom and the 27 people diagnosed with a brain tumour every day in Canada.

“It was something beyond difficult watching my mom go from being able to drive and walking and doing everything with me, my brother, to not being able to move at all,” Collette said. 

“Every few months we’d be told, ‘This could be your mom’s last Christmas, this could be your mom’s last birthday.’ It was living in constant anxiety of waking up one day and being like, is my mom dead or not?”

Collette says her mother was a fierce warrior who went through a lot of struggles, raising two kids while living with a benign brain tumour on her brain stem — a location that meant an operation could have been lethal.

But Massina never let the challenges she faced stop her, Collette said.

A furry walks along a path.
A member of the Westman Furries walks in the Onix Angel Brain Tumour Walk. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

She likes to think her mom passed on some of that strength to her to help bring the Onix Angel Brain Tumour Walk to Brandon for the first time Saturday at the Riverbank Discovery Centre.

The walk has raised more than $3,000, with donations still coming in to the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada.

WATCH | Brandon walk brings community together, honours mom who lived with brain tumour for 17 years:

Brandon walk brings community together, honours mom who lived with brain tumour for 17 years

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Dozens of people joined walked in the wind and rain to raise money for brain tumour research and supports. The walk was designed with the hope of helping brain tumour survivors and families connect, and ease some of the loneliness and traumatic impacts that can come with a brain tumour diagnosis.

Dozens of people joined Collette to walk in the wind and rain to raise money for brain tumour research and supports.

She designed the walk in the hope of helping brain tumour survivors and families connect, and ease some of the loneliness and traumatic impacts that can come with a brain tumour diagnosis.

She knows how alienating that can be for people and families — growing up she was known in her small-town elementary school as the kid with the disabled mom, she said, and it felt like there was no one out there who could relate with what she was going through.

Collette doesn’t want other people to feel that way.

Connecting with others with shared experiences is “really important and helping with coping and healing,” she said.

‘Just keep fighting’

Kate Maguire, 22, is a brain tumour survivor from Deloraine. A cancerous tumour was found when she was 17, after she started having trouble with her vision.

An urgent MRI located a germinoma brain tumour just after the start of her Grade 12 year. COVID-19 lockdowns followed soon after, making it an even more chaotic period as she began treatment, said Maguire.

“I did the whole chemotherapy and radiation to just make sure it was gone,” she said.

She’s now in remission. Maguire said she still has some dark days, but tries to see the light of everything.

She’s currently at Brandon University, working on a bachelor of science degree, but is also considering a veterinary technology program at Red River College Polytechnic.

Her experience with cancer shows her how important it is to “just keep fighting,” she said — a message she wanted to share with others at the walk.

A woman with a hat smiles in the rain.
Kate Maguire, 22, was diagnosed with a brain tumour when she was 17. She’s now in remission. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

The walk also helped her feel less alone in her experiences, Maguire said. Survivors and family can share jokes or bond over health tips, like how to deal with nausea when going through treatments.

Trina Boyko, a content writer for the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada, says this year is the first where the foundation has taken on a community-led model for May’s Brain Tumour Awareness Month, letting people in different communities choose when and where they want to hold fundraising walks.

“It’s more common than you would think,” Boyko said. “Getting together in events like this, it really helps to promote … knowledge and research, and helps us advocate.”

Community-building is also a big part of the organization’s work, said Boyko, including offering support groups. Meeting people who have similar experiences is very important, she said.

Collette said one of the biggest impacts of the walk is connecting with so many people whose lives had been affected by brain tumours.

It’s part of healing from the grief of her mom’s death, while honouring her legacy, she said.

“She was always like, ‘I’m going to push past it’ … scootering around, trying her best to walk, even trying her best to fully get function back in her legs and arms,” Collette said. 

“To this day, like, I don’t think I’ve met anyone else stronger.”