Syracuse Basketball Star Set To Return To The Court After Beating Cancer
At just 24 years old, Syracuse point guard Tiana Mangakahia never expected to have any worries aside from basketball.
The Australian native had just finished a stellar junior season for the Orange and was the team’s star player heading into her senior year. She had been picked by the Australian national team for their preliminary roster — a gateway to the Olympic team — but the discovery of a lump on her left breast changed the course of her basketball career.
Mangakahia was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer on June 17, 2019. She began an arduous eight months of treatments, including eight chemotherapy sessions, a double mastectomy, and reconstructive surgery. Rather than return home to Australia, however, Mangakahia elected to stay in Syracuse with the support of her teammates and Coach Quentin Hillsman.
Throughout Mangakahia’s journey to recovery, she learned a lot about herself and never gave up on her dreams, even when they seemed far away as she watched her hair fall out and her physical strength deplete.
“I embraced it,” she told ESPN. “I made myself know that my looks don’t mean anything and that it’s all about my personality.”
She requested a new headshot after her hair fell out for Syracuse’s website, and her five brothers shaved their heads in solidarity. Mangakahia’s positive attitude continuously inspired basketball fans, including fellow cancer survivor Alise Hoffman, who told ESPN at a Syracuse home game, “To see Tiana smile and take this disease on and beat it… that is everything to me.”
Mangakahia completed chemotherapy in November and was cleared to begin practicing with the team in February 2020. Although she missed the 2019-2020 season, Mangakahia received an Extension of Eligibility Waiver to compete for the Orange for another season still has a position on the Australian preliminary roster to look forward to since the Tokyo Summer Olympics were postponed until 2021.
“It helps me be able to showcase what I can do after everything,” Mangakahia said of playing this college season, according to ESPN. “If the Olympics occurred this year, I wouldn’t have been able to play. One more year here … gives me a better opportunity to make that team. That’s something I still dream about.”
Mangakahia’s infamous optimistic personality not only gave her the strength to power through her treatments, but has rejuvenated her confidence in herself.
“When I look back, I just can’t believe I went through that. It makes me very emotional,” she told Syracuse.com. “I feel like I learned a lot about myself as a person, I think being independent. I always knew I’d come out on top. I knew I’d be right here where I am.”