‘It’s a shock to hear those words,’ Oley Valley’s Tiffany Cappellano talks about her recovery from breast cancer, winning a field hockey state title and her belief in Title IX

What a difference one year – and a whole lot of mental toughness – makes.


“I started chemo March 31,” Oley Valley Head Field Hockey Coach Tiffany Cappellano told Female Athlete News. “Six rounds. One round every three weeks.”


That was in 2023. The interview with FAN was conducted over the winter.


Flash forward to April 2024, and Cappellano is a shining example of a breast cancer warrior who kicked cancer’s you know what. Even with that pressure applied to her body’s immune system and her overall health at risk, the Lynx leader dug deep into her athletic identity to come out swinging in a battle that she ultimately won.


“I found out on March 6, 2023,” she said. “It’s a shock when you hear those words. I feel that everyone I met throughout all of it was reassuring and knowledgeable and always seemed positive. I vibe off other people’s vibes.”


Cappellano found the lump. She went to the doctor. And, they confirmed that it was Grade 2 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma that metastasized to the lymph nodes. It spread across her chest cavity but didn’t grow any further. They caught it early enough to get rid of it.


The two hardest things Cappellano said that she faced: riding out chemo treatments and telling the news to her field hockey team.


“That was really hard,” she said. “That was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It was equally mentally as tough as it was physically tough.”


She said she didn’t hesitate to tell her players.


“I did tell the team right away,” she said. “I had a private meeting for all of them. They took it really hard. Telling my kids; that was the hardest discussion I had to have about it. Just seeing their reactions. Some of them had family members who had gone through it.”


Speaking candidly with them about it and keeping the lines of communication open in team group texts and chats, “in a sense, it connected us emotionally a little more,” Cappellano said.


“It made all of us a little bit more vulnerable. I think that spilled over in our game as well.”


The game she is referring to is the 2023 PIAA Class 1A Field Hockey Championship. The Lynx won their third state title last November defeating Lackawanna Trail in a thrilling come from behind 4-3 win.


After all her athletes and coaches were adorned with gold medals, Cappellano walked across the field at Cumberland Valley High School lugging the championship trophy.


When asked how she felt, she admitted that she was in remission. Her response to how that played a part in the team’s victory, “I’m an athlete.”


*Oley Valley Head Field Hockey Coach Tiffany Cappellano motioning to her players during the 2023 District 3 1A Championship. Photo: Bob Benscoter


“Getting into a game like this, where we’re on our heels, it can go one of two ways,” Cappellano said post-championship game. Her personal trial helped lift their emotional fortitude to victory.


“It was a very intense game,” senior Molly Rothenberger said. “It was a good game, and it was a good fight. There was a moment when we were down, but we really dug deep there and ended up coming up with the win.”


She and her teammate Morgan Snyder, also a senior, said the Oley Valley coaches always emphasize the importance of mental toughness.


“It was a very hard-fought game but, I think both teams came out there and gave it their all,” Snyder said. “We really respected their defense. It was very, very solid.”


The road to get there was emotional. Their coach was diagnosed with cancer. She had endured chemo and radiation treatments. And, in September 2023, she had a double mastectomy.


“I took off coaching for a week,” Cappellano said. “I only missed seeing one or two games. I made sure I was there for the Twin Valley game. I wasn’t able to stand. I stayed up in the press box. Being able to be there for them and then seeing them after the game. Big rivalry. When I saw them out there fighting on the field, I thought, ‘you’re good. You can do this.’ I was off school, teaching, for two weeks. I kind of gave myself grace to heal.”


At age 42, she said the challenge put things in perspective. Her dad was treated for cancer at Fox Chase Cancer Center before he passed away. She thought it was the “best place” for her to be treated, too, adding she believed in the hospital’s research-based cutting edge facilities and faculty. She went there for her treatments. 


“After having the [double mastectomy], all my scans came back clean,” she said. “Zero margin for cancer. So far, so good…I’m ready to put this chapter of my life behind me.”


Cappellano is finishing up bio-therapy treatments through June and then has a second reconstruction surgery in July. 


Winning a school championship is a visible thing, but the journey and relationships last a lifetime. Oley Valley is home.


*Oley Valley field hockey celebrates its third PIAA state title in November 2023. Photo: Bob Benscoter


“I already feel so loved and valued within our community here,” Cappellano said. “I grew up here. This is where I went to high school. It’s such a great community that rally around their people. I went to the University of Iowa. I loved my teammates and alumni there. They all rallied around me; social media posts. It really was even a little emotional for me, just seeing everybody and how they do care. And, how excited they are for me now.


“We lost my dad to cancer in Oct. 2019, in the middle of the season. My dad and I always connected over hockey. He was somebody who would always talk to me about my games. After his passing, my sisters and my mom didn’t miss a game. There was always somebody at a game…They’re my biggest cheerleaders as well. This was extremely humbling. It’s amazing that so many people have the biggest hearts on the field hockey field and in life. I just feel blessed. I know some people wouldn’t feel like that, but I do. I feel blessed. Maybe it was one of the lowest points of my life, but I also feel that there is so much positive energy in the field hockey world. It was one of the best years of my life as well. I am forever grateful to so many people especially the field hockey community.”


A staunch supporter of Title IX, she said she believes that sports offer opportunities for girls and women that can be lifechanging. She leaned on the exemplary inspiration displayed at Iowa during the 50th anniversary of Title IX. It helped her to push through chemo treatments, she said. 


Cappellano was named USA Field Hockey’s 2023 National Coach of the Year. FAN was honored to host Cappellano as a volunteer coach in the first PA Field Hockey Senior Cup in March 2024.


“At the [PIAA] state final game, watching the way the girls reacted to getting scored on and then their comeback. They celebrated. Said, we’ve got more goals to get. They demonstrated how those little moments, great and huge, those little moments, how much they have learned and how that is going to propel them into being adults and be part of real-world situations. On the job or in personal life, those moments are going to pay off in bigger ways…what an awesome opportunity for them to persist to believe that they could achieve.”


According to recent data, the National Cancer Institute reported that in 2023, “The rate of new cases of female breast cancer was 126.9 per 100,000 women per year.”


*Top photo: Oley Valley’s Tiffany Cappellano. Credit: Bob Benscoter

Thank you for reading Female Athlete News. We can be reached at femaleathletenews@gmail.com. 

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