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Turning Pain into Purpose

  March 11, 2024

Onix Collette was only in third grade when her mom, Brandi Massina, was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Brandi was young herself, having welcomed Onix while she was still in high school.

“One of the few things I vividly remember from that time is my mom’s diagnosis,” says Onix, now 25 years old. “I feel like my brain latched on to the traumatic stuff.”

Brandi’s diagnosis

Brandi had been experiencing vertigo, Onix says. She recalls her mom losing her balance frequently, and then her headaches started. After an MRI, Brandi learned she had a brain tumour.

While her tumour was benign, it was inoperable because of its location on the base of her brainstem.

Brandi sat Onix down in the living room of their home and explained the situation, which Onix didn’t quite understand.

“When I was a kid, I was under the impression that doctors were miracle workers,” Onix says.

“I thought, ‘It’s okay, Mom, the doctors will fix you and everything will be alright.’”

Her parents enrolled her in therapy through the Child and Adolescent Treatment Centre (CATC) in Brandon, Man., where they lived.

Finding their own way

Brandi and OnixWhile it was helpful for Onix to connect with others whose parents were dealing with serious or terminal illnesses, school was a different story.

“In our little elementary school, I was known as the kid with the disabled mom,” Onix says. “I got bullied a lot for it.”

Brandi was still able to walk in the early stages of her diagnosis, but with assistance. She had a cane, and Onix would lend her extra support at school events such as parent-teacher interviews or assemblies.

“My mom was really embarrassed by it and so was I,” Onix says. “Looking back, I’m like, ‘Ouch, why did I ever think that way?’ But I was in elementary school. I didn’t know any better.”

Onix describes feeling angry and jealous of girls her age because of the experiences she felt she’d missed out on.

“I never knew what it was like to have a ‘normal’ mother-daughter relationship,” Onix says. “To go shopping, you know, and do the sorts of things that young girls would do with their moms.”

Still, Onix’s relationship with her mom was unique in its own way. Hearing how fondly Onix speaks of Brandi, their closeness is evident.

“She wasn’t necessarily a party animal, but she was super fun and spunky,” Onix says.

Brandi loved music, especially the late ’90s to early ’00s pop era. Eminem, Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera—their songs would get Brandi going, especially if she was on the road.

Her love of driving equalled her love of music, Onix says, and she would take any opportunity to drive while cranking her tunes.

“Driving was her favourite thing to do,” Onix says. “If my grandma would say, ‘Hey, I need groceries,’ my mom would go out and get them for her, whether there was a snowstorm, rainstorm—you name it.”

A family’s struggles and strength

BrandiThe family went through another hardship when Onix was 15, losing their home to the bank.

While Onix’s parents and her then-nine-year-old brother, Austin Massina, moved in with her paternal grandparents, Onix chose to live with her maternal grandmother, Noni Collette.

She and Noni remained close with Brandi, who was eventually moved to a care home.

Brandi had several compounding illnesses through the years, from shingles to gallstones, which required surgery, all while managing her brain tumour symptoms.

“The last time she got sick, we thought, ‘Oh, she’ll pull through,’” says Onix. “‘She always pulls through.’”

Unfortunately, Onix and her family said goodbye to Brandi on Dec. 29, 2023, due to complications from her brain tumour. Brandi was just 44 years old.

Learning to cope

Onix has found solace in her art (Onix Angel Creations), which has carried her through many of life’s challenges. At 13, she began creating fur suits for those who find an escape in dressing up as their favourite furry characters, as she does. Onix also produces digital art and has recently begun writing a memoir.

“I meet up with my friend every Tuesday, and we both just sit down at a coffee shop and write things,” Onix says.

She’s also committed to giving back, taking part in the Canada- and U.S.-wide charity event known as Extra Life for eight years straight.

Hosted by video game streaming service, Twitch, Extra Life sees participants taking part in video game challenges to raise funds for their local children’s hospitals.

Walking for Brandi

Brandi and OnixOnix has also participated in Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada’s Brain Tumour Walk in previous years, leading a team called Onix Angel. With the change in direction for the 2024 Walk, Onix is eager to plan her own gathering closer to home.

On Saturday, May 18, 2024, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Onix is hosting a 2.5 km walk at the Riverbank Discovery Centre in Brandon, complete with a barbecue, bouncy castle and entertainment.

“Everyone is really excited,” Onix says, of her team members. “We don’t have to commute to Winnipeg, which is nice.”

Local sponsors have stepped up as well.

“One of my friends who owns an event rental company reached out to me and said, ‘I’d love to help you out,’” Onix says.

Her friend is supplying tents and the bouncy castle, while Onix is in talks with another sponsor to provide hot dogs. She plans to reciprocate the favour by setting up tables at her event where sponsors can promote their businesses.

“They can advertise or leave their business cards as a ‘thank you’ for their support,” Onix says, adding that she’s still waiting to hear back from a few potential sponsors she’s reached out to.

Onix has taken it upon herself to provide incentives to those who donate to her team, an idea she had after last year’s Brain Tumour Walk.

“I noticed other teams had T-shirts made up, so I wanted to do something similar for those supporting my team,” Onix says.

She’s hoping for a turnout of at least 100 people, which will include the Westman Furries and the Manitoba Ghostbusters, amongst anyone else who wants to walk together.

“The more, the merrier,” Onix says. “Nothing says a movement like having 100 people walking together down a sidewalk. I feel like that would be awesome.”

Onix is dedicated to making a difference and ensuring her mother’s story is heard.

“She fought so long and so hard, and she deserves to be recognized for her battle,” says Onix. “I am just trying to turn all this negative energy into positive energy.”

From Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada:

We’d like to extend our gratitude to Onix for sharing her story with us and for turning grief into action for other families across Canada.

To support Onix Angels and learn more about the team’s incentives, visit Onix Angel’s Brain Tumour Walk page.

You can also qualify for additional incentives by registering for the 2024 Brain Tumour Walk. Your participation makes a difference, no matter how big or small. Check out our CommUNITY Champion Toolkit for ideas to plan your own gathering and, as always, reach out to us at if we can help. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for your continued support!