Outliving Cancer and Changing Lives Through Exploration-Meet Angelina Mangiardi
Angelina Mangiardi (aka “Katniss”) grew up in Western Massachusetts on a farm where she grew to love nature and thrived in the open countryside. At just nineteen, her life completely turned upside down after she was diagnosed with bone cancer. At the time of her diagnosis, she was attending the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in NYC to pursue her dream of entering the fashion
Mangiardi’s battle with cancer was a tough one but she never lost hope. Mangiardi’s treatment plan involved six 21-day cycles of chemotherapy, with a 96-hour infusion and five-day hospital stay required with each treatment. After finishing chemo, Mangiardi completed nineteen grueling rounds of radiation. After six painful months of treatment, the cancer was gone.
“Everything happened so quickly that I just went into survival mode,” explains Mangiardi.
While in the hospital, Angelina started researching cancer resources, and she stumbled upon First Descents, an outdoors program for cancer patients that completely changed her life. She got to experience the healing power of spending time outdoors, and she formed a passion for bringing people closer to nature. With her shifting dreams, Mangiardi studied environmental science and worked as the Environmental Education Program Assistant at Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) in Fairbanks, Alaska.
After experiencing many adventures in Alaska, she went to work as the Farm-to-School Coordinator for Mālama Kaua’i, a non-profit organization working for sustainability across Kaua’i. Mangiardi kept up with her leadership responsibilities and later on, decided to continue where she had left off with her passion for introducing others to the natural world. She returned to First Descents after her first year in remission and joined the team as the Program Coordinator to help introduce others to the power of adventure that she had discovered while she was a participant in the program.
Mangiardi’s motto is, “outliving it” because she has connected with the importance of surviving cancer and going outside of her comfort zone to live whatever life she wants for herself no matter what may challenge her along the way.
“Everything in my life, the career path, and things that fulfill me all stem from the lessons I learned from surviving cancer.
As Mangiardi reflects on what it was like in the moment of being told that she was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, she remembers how she needed to understand how to cope. That she did not need to stay perfectly strong the entire time. She needed to live positively, but also accept that there would be times when it was okay to not be okay. When she did need to break down and let out the negative emotions that she may try to hold in. Mangiardi has gotten to meet and connect with many other young adults dealing with similar challenges as she has.
“There is this unspoken bond and instant connection between us. Everyone in the cancer community understands it.
First Descents is one of the ways Mangiardi has felt this bond with others. She has gotten to go climbing, boating, surfing, and reclaim her life through the First Descents program. She has transitioned from a participant to a Program Coordinator.
Discovering the rock climbing program at First Descents changed Mangiardi’s perspective on the challenges she faced. She focuses on accessibility and adaptability at First Descents to make sure that no matter the medical situation people are in, they are welcome in the program. First Descents offers outdoor experiential programming, skill development, and aims to improve the long-term survivorship of young adults living with serious health conditions. Mangiardi sees the importance of keeping nature in our daily lives and the impact it can have on our mental health.
“Find ways to connect with your environment and what is around you.
The power that this program has had on so many young peoples’ lives is being spread through social media for others to discover. Check out their Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and share about this amazing opportunity with anyone you know who may appreciate this program as much as Mangiardi. Help more people discover the beauty of nature and outlive their own challenges.