Basketball star returns to the court after courageous breast cancer battle

By Mare Haimona-Riki

When Ngāti Huarere basketball star, Tiana Mangakāhia returned to training with her Syracuse Orange team it marked another step in her recovery from stage 2 breast cancer. 

Born and raised in Australia, Mangakāhia grew up playing basketball with her five brothers, who she says were a huge influence on her development on the court. 

“They really got me into basketball …. My parents put us all into the same sport so they didn't have to go back and forth from different venues,” she says. 

Tiana Mangakāhia. Source / Syracuse 

Although Mangākahia has never lived in Aotearoa, she takes pride in her Māori heritage, especially being of direct lineage to Meri Te Tai Mangākahia, who led the movement for Māori women’s rights to vote and was the first Māori woman to speak in Parliament in the late 1800s.

“She was such a strong woman, I can't even imagine the struggles that she went through. Knowing about my heritage and my culture helps me every day of my life.” 

Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia. Source / Te Ara

After being virtually unknown at the Division 1 level when starting with the Syracuse Orange team, Mangākahia had a breakout season in 2018-2019, averaging 17 points, 9 assists, and 5 rebounds, leading the team to the 3rd seed - the highest in the school's history. 

And then came the news: "I was asleep, and I got a phone call from the doctor who told me I had invasive ductal carcinoma, which is a form of breast cancer.”

“I just started crying, and I called my parents, and we all just cried.”

Source / Sports Illustrated 

Over the next 12 months, Tiana underwent eight chemotherapy sessions and a double mastectomy. She says that her experience in battling cancer has helped her immensely as a person, on and off the court.

“I'm a lot more independent now, I feel that no matter what is thrown at me, I can really get through it.

“I feel like time has a lot of impact on situations … I knew that throughout time if I continued to get through day by day, I will win.”

Tiana returns to the court for her first game back next week.