SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — The question “Why me?” has entered her mind, but Tiana Mangakahia knows these things happen all the time.
The 24-year-old star point guard for the Syracuse women’s basketball team was diagnosed with breast cancer about two months ago, and now she is halfway through chemotherapy.
Mangakahia spoke publicly for the first time Tuesday since acknowledging on July 1 she had the disease. The announcement by the red-shirt senior sent shock waves through the Syracuse program.
The Australian is one of the nation’s top women’s players. She said her condition has caused her to think more about life’s simpler things, but she maintains she’s still the same person.
“There are certain things you can’t control ,” she said. “You just have to kind of handle it and get through it.”
In early June, Mangakahia noticed a lump on her left breast, and things progressed quickly. She received a biopsy in mid-June and a mammogram. On June 18, her doctor called her and told her she had Grade 3 invasive ductal carcinoma.
When she asked the doctor to explain what it was she couldn’t comprehend it. She had stage 2 breast cancer. When the shock subsided, she called coach Quentin Hillsman to ask if they could meet.
Hillsman said the two cried for 30 seconds. Hillsman said that after wiping away the tears they started thinking of a plan: how to fight this. Managakahia met with numerous members of the athletic department. She decided to go public because of all the backing she gets from fans.
#Tough4T trended on Twitter. An outpouring of support came from all over.
“When you recruit a kid and you tell their parents, ‘Have them come here. We’re going to take care of them. I’m going to look out for them. I’m going to make sure nothing happens to them,'” Hillsman said. “…We have an obligation as coaches, as a university to make sure that our student-athletes are well taken care of.”
She has completed four of eight treatments. Mangakahia said the feedback from doctors has been good, and she will have a better understanding of her status after more tests Friday. She will apply for an extra year of eligibility and hopes to return to Syracuse for one last year in 2020-21.
There are bad days, of course. Hillsman can only think of one, but in the days following her chemotherapy treatments Mangakahia said she feels fatigued and remains mostly immobile. But everything otherwise feels pretty normal, she said, and now she envisions a day when her fight will end, and she’ll win.
Nowadays, support comes from many places: family, the Syracuse program, fans. On a good day now, she’ll wake up, have something to eat, shoot around and in the afternoon and spend time with friends. That’s when things are good.
“It’s just a part of the process,” she said. “I know I need to go through more bad days to get to the better days.”
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