A Royal Battle Against Cancer

Organization: Service: Story Topics:
Breast Cancer
A Royal Battle

Pageant Empowers Jr. Miss Southern California

As Junior Miss Southern California 2014, Emma Manetta is using her platform and life experiences to improve lives – especially those touched by cancer.

“I always knew that one day, I’d give back to our community. I just never imagined it would be for a cause so close to home,” says 12-year-old Emma.

Through her fundraising activities, the sixth grader from Downey is well on her way to achieving her personal goal of raising $12,000 for the Orange Coast Memorial Foundation.

Her motivation is her mom, Shawna, who was diagnosed in 2008 at the age of 35 with an aggressive, Stage III breast cancer. Follow-up testing in 2011 detected a recurrence: cancer had spread to her liver and lungs. Today, with the help of her oncologist, Bichlien Nguyen, M.D., and her team of cancer specialists at Orange Coast Memorial, Shawna continues her fight.

“I chose Orange Coast Memorial because they’ve helped keep my mom alive,” says Emma. “Their support has meant so much to me and my brothers. I wanted to do everything I could to help other families in our situation.”

Compassionate Young Queen

With auburn hair, kind brown eyes and a big smile, Emma bears a strong resemblance to Shawna. But what Emma sees when she looks at her mom is courage. “She’s strong,” says Emma. “She was open with us about her cancer from the very beginning. My mom shared everything about her condition, and used it to make us closer as a family. My dad, two older brothers and I now have a greater appreciation for life.”

When Shawna began chemotherapy treatment in the MemorialCare Breast Center at Orange Coast Memorial, Emma was just five years old. Staff and patients became like extended family as she accompanied her mom to treatment. To show their support, Emma and her brothers would bring frames they hand painted with inspirational words like ‘hope’, ‘courage’ and ‘faith’ to patients undergoing chemotherapy for the first time.

“We wanted them to know they are not alone,” says Emma.

Shawna adds, “My daughter doesn’t remember me before cancer. Our family’s journey has become one of living life grateful for every day, encouraging new experiences and making lasting memories.”

Crowning Achievements

Competing in the pageant was originally her dad’s idea. “The pageant isn’t about the glamour or even the competition. It’s more of a sisterhood, and we have the opportunity to do a lot of great work for different charities all over Southern California.”

Emma’s first fundraising event for the Orange Coast Memorial Foundation took place at the California Pizza Kitchen at Bella Terra in Huntington Beach. Also in June, she participated in the Relay for Life. In August, she raised funds at an event held at the Stonefire Grill in Fountain Valley.

On October 21, Emma will join the community at Orange Coast Memorial’s “Mix, Mingle and Mammography” event, which will feature four-inch quilt squares for purchase and decorating. The squares will be fashioned into a quilt honoring cancer survivors and those still battling the disease.

Emma has also made and sold nearly 50 “Bracelets for Charity” and dozens of “Jars for Change” at events and online.

“The one thing I’ve learned is that people care. They want to help beat cancer,” says Emma.

After the Reign

Approximately 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer cases have a known genetic link. That’s why at the MemorialCare Breast Center at Orange Coast Memorial, every woman receives a genetic risk assessment. Shawna’s assessment led to genetic testing and counseling that confirmed her cancer was hereditary. As a protective measure, Emma will be tested for the same gene mutation when she reaches her early 20s.

In the meantime, Emma is making the most of her Junior Miss Southern California reign. Along with fundraising projects, she’s been on hand for local ribbon cuttings and concerts in the park as well as the building of the City of Downey’s Rose Parade float, while keeping up with her schoolwork. After her 2014 reign, she will continue favorite activities such as drawing, reading, performing with local theater groups, shopping and spending time with family and friends.

One day, Emma hopes to turn her love for children into a career as a kindergarten teacher. With the love and support of family, community and friends at Orange Coast Memorial, her future shines even brighter than her crown.

To learn how you can support life-changing breast cancer research, prevention, diagnosis and treatment, visit memorialcare.org/breastcare. Please visit Emma's Blog to support her in her fundraising for a cure efforts, and register for Mix, Mingle and Mammography to reserve your quilt square and space at the event.