Syracuse star Tiana Mangakahia nurtures basketball dream, finds new purpose during breast cancer battle

Tiana Mangakahia: 'Through My Words' trailer (1:00)

while a battle with cancer may have put the plans of syracuse basketball player tiana mangakahia on hold, the experience has caused her to create some new dreams. catch the full feature this sunday at 8 p.m. et on the acc network. (1:00)

TIANA MANGAKAHIA JOGS亲友衡阳棋牌app官网 behind her Syracuse teammates as she makes her way out of the locker room and onto the basketball court at the Carrier Dome. She raises her right hand and high-fives the kids leaning against the railing.

she glides in on 6-inch snake-print pumps, wearing a white turtleneck and a pair of jeans ripped at her knees. hoop earrings the size of a fist dangle from her ears. her brown hair is growing out, short and spiky and coated with a generous amount of gel.

as she sits down next to head coach quentin hillsman with 15 minutes to go until tipoff -- an important acc game for syracuse against no. 5 louisville -- the screen above plays a video of mangakahia -- her head is clean-shaven -- talking about her favorite meal on game day: steak. right after, a question pops up: who on syracuse is most likely to play in the olympics?

teammates appear on the screen answering the question. mangakahia looks up as the fans' votes come in. she has taken a quick lead.

亲友衡阳棋牌app官网her face breaks into a cheeky grin, a smile that makes her nose crinkle.

people still believe in her. maybe more people now than ever.

after eight months of treatment -- eight chemotherapy sessions, a double mastectomy and a reconstruction surgery -- it turns out cancer didn't steal her dream. odd as it sounds, mangakahia insists it gave her a new one.

YOU HAVE INVASIVE ductal carcinoma. We need to start chemotherapy immediately.

it was 8:15 a.m. on june 17, 2019, three fitful days after mangakahia had undergone tests. the words reverberated around her head. they didn't make any sense. it was as if her brain had suddenly forgotten how to process words.

What does that mean?亲友衡阳棋牌app官网 she said into the phone.

You have breast cancer. I am so sorry.

that's when the tears came.

亲友衡阳棋牌app官网she hung up the phone and facetimed her best friend and former teammate, miranda drummond. through sobs, mangakahia told her she had cancer.

two weeks earlier, she had found a lump on her left breast and called her mom, cynthia, back home in australia. they decided not to worry too much -- mangakahia was young and active and it couldn't be serious, they said to each other. still, her mom urged her to get it checked immediately. in those two weeks, the lump had grown. that's when she knew this could be something serious. as she sat in the doctor's office and carefully observed the nurse's face as she ordered more tests -- a mammogram and a biopsy -- mangakahia knew something was off. she saw it in the nurse's eyes.

she was 24, having made her way to syracuse after playing club basketball in australia and at a community college in kansas. this wasn't supposed to happen to a 24-year-old, she kept thinking. she didn't have any symptoms. she was playing her best -- the 5-foot-6 point guard had recently scored her 1,000th career point for the orange -- when the season ended just three months earlier. she had just been selected to attend . she had decided to return to syracuse rather than .

she had all of these plans. she had everything mapped out for the next year.

and then she didn't.

亲友衡阳棋牌app官网she called hillsman, whom the players call coach q, and asked to meet him immediately. those 3 miles hillsman drove from his house to his office were the "longest 3 miles" of his life. he knew mangakahia had undergone tests, and he knew immediately it had to be bad for her to want to talk to him in person.

they cried for a few minutes after she told him, but that was it. he rubbed his eyes and told her, "you're 24. we're going to get through this. i am going to be here for you all the way if you want to stay in america for your treatment."

that was all mangakahia needed to hear. her dad, terei, tried to persuade her to come home for the treatment, but she knew her life was here now. her teammates were here, her career was here. she wouldn't let cancer pluck her out of her life.

"i'll stay, coach. i'll stay and fight this disease."

亲友衡阳棋牌app官网in two seasons at syracuse, she played 65 games, scored 1,114 points and set the school's career assists record with 591. she made the orange better; she made her teammates better.

"tiana and i have that connection where in my gut i know before she makes the pass that she's going to pass to me," drummond said. "i know when she is going to pass to me. i know tiana does all of these crazy passes -- behind the back and stuff. she knows that when she passes, i will catch the ball."

亲友衡阳棋牌app官网ever since she started playing basketball -- and realized she was good at it -- mangakahia wanted to play for australia in the olympics. and in april 2019, she made the preliminary squad. she called her mom and said, "mum, it looks like my dream is coming true. it looks like we are going to tokyo!"

three weeks later, when she was taking a shower, she found the lump on her left breast.

亲友衡阳棋牌app官网"i am lost ... like, what am i supposed to do now?" she said.

for her bio page. She put on the biggest smile she possibly could. To support her through it, all five of her brothers shaved off their hair in Australia, at the same time Tiana did.

亲友衡阳棋牌app官网the little things changed. she and her boyfriend broke up midway through chemotherapy. she couldn't spend as much time nurturing her friendships. she couldn't enjoy food anymore. she set alarms to remind herself to eat because the chemotherapy took away her appetite. she'd always been a happy person, but the chemotherapy made her anxious. she was at the mall one day, and out of nowhere, she felt her breath catch in her throat, her face flushed and tears formed in her eyes. she'd never had an anxiety attack in her life, but she knew she was having one then. her parents made her sit down, told her to focus on her breathing, gave her some water, and after a few minutes she felt better.

even while talking about it, her face reddens and sweat drops form on her forehead. she fans her face with her hands and grabs the water bottle sitting next to her.

"i'm getting a heat flash. i get heat flashes all the time now," she said smiling sadly. heat flashes can be instigated by treatments to cure cancer, and in mangakahia's case, they are the result of chemotherapy. even as she talked about her darkest days, she'd find a way out of it, landing on a positive thing that came out of those moments.

one of those positive outcomes was that her relationship with hillsman and his family got only better. his wife flew mangakahia to boston for a second opinion after her initial diagnosis, and hillsman decided to stay home instead of traveling during recruiting season. he decided she needed him more. they spent hours chatting, and most times it had nothing to do with basketball or cancer. it was about her life, her heartbreak, her new reality. he went from a coach to a friend, a mentor, a family member.

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— NCAA Women's Basketball (@ncaawbb)

playing basketball in the olympics and the wnba is still the goal. she'll have to rebuild her upper-body strength, regain the 20 pounds she lost during the treatment and work her way back into top shape. she can return to her regular shooting workouts this week. after the syracuse season, she'll petition the ncaa to extend her eligibility so she can come back for the 2020-21 season.

亲友衡阳棋牌app官网"not to say anything negative about the game of basketball or who she's playing with, but an 80% tiana is better than a lot of players [at] 100%, because she's just that good of a player," hillsman said. "there's no doubt about it that she can exceed everyone's expectations on what she can do coming back from this situation."

亲友衡阳棋牌app官网"she is so talented that you feel like every time she has the ball in her hand something good is going to happen," engstler said. "we always make jokes about how we hope to see each other in the league one day."

"so what if tokyo 2020 didn't happen," mangakahia said. "there's always paris 2024, right?"

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