For two years, Mary DiMilia battled Stage three breast cancer. Every two weeks for three consecutive months, she underwent chemotherapy.
She had multiple surgeries, including removal of lymph nodes and a mastectomy. With no family history of breast cancer, her family of four was in shock.
Now, only two years out of treatments, her life has resumed a nearly normal routine. She’s learning how to manage her new hair and how to deal with a lack of feeling and limited mobility on her right side, but most importantly – she’s back to swimming.
Before her battle with cancer, DiMilia, 43, had a track record of winning triathalons.
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After cancer, she felt that anything was possible. So with her swimming background, she decided to tackle water polo in an effort to raise funds for the Cavanagh Research Laboratory at N.C. State.
The tournament was the first of its kind in the state.
“After cancer, all you want is to feel in control of your body,” she said.
Last weekend nearly 200 players from 12 teams from all over the state – including UNC Chapel Hill, Duke University Appalachian State University among others – competed to raise money for cancer research.
On the wall , the hosts had created a memorial wall of those who had battled cancer.
Even her children, eight-year-old Michelle and 10-year-old Ryan competed in the youth tournament. It was their first time playing the game, a team water sport in which swimmers compete to put a ball in the opposite team’s goal.
Michelle said she loved the competition against her brother. Ryan agreed.
“My mom ... said I would like it. I disagreed the first time, but then I liked it,” Ryan said.
Two former Olympic swimmers, Alex Rousseau, who competed in 1992 and 1996, and Jacqueline DeLuca, who brought home a Bronze in 2004, came in for the tournament and assisted with the youth games.
DiMilia, who has been involved in Swim Across America, had become friends with the men involved with the Triangle Water Polo team. When they said that they were going to sponsor the tournament, she jumped at the chance to help.
“I’m passionate about cancer research,” she said. “I couldn’t just sit on the sidelines.”
After spending much of the day setting up for the tournament, she competed in two games with the Triangle Women’s Water Polo team, winning against UNC-Chapel Hill and losing to the women of Duke University.
The tournament also recognized N.C. State, which raised the most funds for their school’s laboratory.
DiMilia herself raised $850, although the officials are still calculating the overall funds raised.
“I surprised myself,” DiMilia said. “It was so intense. And a lot of fun.”