When a father’s condition becomes his daughter’s cause

Mana Mansour and her dad, Farrokh

Mana Mansour's voice of reason is her dad, Farrokh. His pragmatic mind, as she puts it, is a guiding force. From finances to purchasing an apartment in Toronto, his perspective is heavily relied upon.

Or at least it was until arthritis altered their dynamic.

"My dad was a civil engineer. His wisdom and mathematical talents automatically made him my sounding board growing up," Mana says. "The pain medication he's on to manage his arthritis doesn't allow him to be the guiding light he once was for my sister and I. That's the number one thing I miss — being able to go to him for advice. It's really sad."

Farrokh's experience with arthritis has been the catalyst for Mana's engagement with and support of Arthritis Society Canada. Farrokh lives with ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a form of inflammatory arthritis that causes the spine to fuse. It's estimated that 300,000 adults in Canada have been diagnosed with AS. 

Although signs of the disease began to present in the ‘90s when Farrokh was 50, he didn't receive a diagnosis until much later. By then, the disease had progressed and the father Mana loved had begun to change. 

A character transformation

Memories of a lively and charismatic Farrokh colour Mana's recollections of her childhood. He loved the outdoors and playing soccer. Mana says she would pride herself on the fact that while her friends' fathers had beer bellies, Farrokh had a six-pack. In Iran, where Mana was born, Farrokh was the centre of the action, hosting gatherings and Persian New Year celebrations. 

"He was a social butterfly, always the life of the party," Mana says.

Mana and Farrokh, in 1986The family moved to Vancouver in 1987. Farrokh routinely took Mana and her sister out on adventures to explore the coastal city's beaches and parks. A key element of their excursions was comedy. Mana says her father had a great sense of humour and never let slide the opportunity to pull a prank. 

These bright, vibrant snapshots fade as Mana contemplates the escalation of arthritis. Farrokh's wellspring of energy was replaced by lethargy. Family trips around Vancouver gave way to medical appointments. A man who found pleasure in the company of others struggled with agonizing pain and eventually a fused spine. By the time Mana was in her mid-20s, Farrokh was often bedridden.

"I didn't understand why he couldn't go out or do fun things, why he had to nap. It wasn't until later that I found out it was his arthritis pain and the drugs making him exhausted," Mana says. "The disease got progressively worse. I've seen him retreat, and that's been really hard."

A family affair

Mana relocated to Toronto in 2017 to further her career as a television host, producer and on-air style expert. Her parents traveled across the country to help her settle, and although her mom has returned several times to visit, Farrokh has been unable to make the trek. Mana occasionally goes to Vancouver, but admits there are challenges.

"I'm very close with my parents, but it's a long, expensive journey from Toronto to Vancouver. I can't make it all the time," she says. "Being away from them has been difficult, especially when I see how much arthritis has changed, and is changing, my dad. He's on antidepressants because of it. We'll go out for coffee, and he'll need to take a break after walking two steps. But it's also changing my mom." 

Mana's mom, who recently learned she has arthritis herself, is Farrokh's caregiver. The title comes with a cost.

"My mom's a superstar. She has high energy and exercises every day, but my dad's illness has become a burden," Mana says. "She refuses to hire help, and it's making her exhausted. It's taking a toll."

Compelled to act

Farrokh's arthritis journey was the impetus for Mana's involvement with Arthritis Society Canada. In 2022, Mana was invited to the organization's annual gala, the Arthritis Fire BallTM, as a member of the media. There, she shared details of her dad's arthritis and expressed interest in a deeper partnership. The following two years, she emceed Fashion on Fire. She is also a member of the event's committee. 

Mana says her parents are proud and thankful that she is helping to raise funds and awareness, and despite the challenges arthritis has imposed on her family, she is hopeful.

"I try to be positive. My dad's spine is fused and there's no going back from that, but maybe there will be innovations or new drugs that improve his situation. The money I help to raise could lead to these things," she says.