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'I got perspective on my priorities, how I want to try to live and what's important to me'

Nasi Manu of Pro14 side Benetton has come through testicular cancer and chemotherapy.

NASI MANU HAS just settled his young daughter back to sleep at their home in Treviso when he answers the phone.

Precious moments, intensified by what he’s been through.

The Benetton back row was diagnosed with testicular cancer last August and has come through chemotherapy in the months since to get good news three weeks ago as his specialist cleared him.

The shock, despair, hope, doubt, and relief have changed Manu forever.

Nasi Manu Nasi Manu is now back running after coming through chemotherapy. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Being cleared, it’s just been great,” he says. “Leading up to it the appointment last month, I was preparing myself for potentially having another round [of chemotherapy]. I prepared myself for the worst and hoped for the best.

“When they gave me the news, I actually waited until we left the meeting until I really took in what the doctor said. I was nervous he might have said there was good news with some side news but when we left the room, we just celebrated in the hallway and it was pretty emotional.

“It’s definitely given me a fresh perspective and I feel like I’m now enjoying life a lot more, even the little things.

“You take a lot of things for granted, all the little things. It was a time for me where I got a lot of perspective on my priorities, how I want to try to live and what is really important to me.”

Being able to do light runs again is one of those little things, Manu enjoying the physical sensation of getting his body moving again. Already, he is dreaming of returning to the pitch to play for Benetton and possibly even Tonga, for whom he has three caps.

Those thoughts were a long way off back in August of last year, when Manu noticed that one of his testicles “wasn’t right.”

He delayed a few days before going to a doctor, who immediately sent him to the oncology department of Treviso hospital. Manu had been selected to start Benetton’s opening game of the season against Dragons but when he was referred for a specialist meeting, that picture changed.

When Manu was informed he needed to return for further tests and scans, he knew he was facing something serious. 

On 31 August, the shocking news that he had testicular cancer was delivered to Manu and his wife, Alice. There was little time to process it before he was whisked into surgery.

Noel Reid and Nasi Manu Manu in action against Leinster last season. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I found out around 9.30 on Friday morning and I was in the operating room by 1.30pm,” he recalls.

“It was a lot to process but at the same time, it was almost nice that it was so quick because I didn’t have a lot of time to think about stuff in my head. I was in shock and immediately went into the operating theatre and got my testicle removed.”

The days that followed the operation were nightmarish, as Manu lay in hospital waiting to find out if the cancer had spread elsewhere in his body.

But immediately, the support from Benetton buoyed him. Team-mates, coaches, and club staff visited him in the days leading up to the relief of learning the cancer had not spread.

Still, Manu faced into the grueling chemotherapy process. The support of his family and all in Benetton made it easier to cope with.

In December, there were tears for Manu when he watched the video Benetton shared of their players shaving their heads in support of him.

“When I saw the video, I was just overwhelmed with emotion,” says Manu. “I felt so loved. All the support was amazing. From the sporting director down to our trainers and all the players, I’ve really appreciated the way they’ve all got behind me.

“The love I’ve received from all my team-mates and family has been amazing.”

In January, Benetton wore special warm-up t-shirts before games, which bore the number eight, a Tongan-style lion and the words “Oku Mau Poupou’i Koe Kihe Ngata’anga,” meaning “We support you to the end.” 

Now, each Benetton player will auction off their t-shirt, with all proceeds going towards the Institute of Oncology Veneto, where Manu underwent his chemotherapy.

Source: BenettonRugby/YouTube

Manu will head back to the doctor for periodic check-ups as his recovery continues and he has already taken to his Twitter page to encourage men to “check your balls.”

“From this experience, if you’ve got any worries about your testicles or any part of your body, it’s important to check it,” says Manu, who has previously played for the Crusaders, Highlanders and Edinburgh. 

“It’s your health, you shouldn’t be embarrassed about it. I get that the culture is where you sometimes don’t bring up that stuff but you shouldn’t be embarrassed.

“I’m very lucky that my cancer wasn’t one that spread. But if it is, getting it checked even a month earlier can make such a difference.”

Manu is enjoying every moment with his family and is determined never to take anything in life for granted.

He has been thrilled to see Benetton shining on the pitch this season, with Kieran Crowley’s side sitting second in Conference B of the Pro14. Manu is daydreaming about being back out there with his friends.

“Kieran and his coaching staff have created an environment where it’s bringing the best out of everyone,” he says. “They’re on a roll and I really want to contribute.

“Hopefully, I get to train with them soon and I hope, in the near future, that I get to play.

“For now, I’m just enjoying being back running and being part of the team. The love and support I’ve received from everyone have been great. It’s great to be here and have my health.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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