MISSOULA — It's hard to talk about the history of the Montana Lady Griz program without Skyla Sisco being one of the first names mentioned.
The Malta native was one of many Montana born-and-bred athletes recruited by Robin Selvig to play for the Lady Griz, and fans remember Sisco as the fiercely competitive, scrappy point guard for UM in the mid-1990s who helped lead the program to four NCAA tournaments as she became the first four-time All-Big Sky player in team history.
However, she's in the game of her life with a second battle with breast cancer, but she isn't alone with her community by her side.
"I know I'm going to get through it," Sisco said.
In 2021, Sisco was part of a star-studded class inducted into the Grizzly Sports Hall of Fame, the final cherry on top of a magical career.
But off the court, Sisco has been forced to be a fighter in a much more serious game.
In 2019, Sisco was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer, and after a few surgeries, some chemo and a lot of radiation, the problem appeared solved.
But in late 2021, the cancer reared its head again.
"This November, I thought I had a spider bite, it was very strange," Sisco said. "Went to the oncologist and it didn't come back. Pretty much the same cancer, but unfortunately at this point it was further advanced."
Sisco was diagnosed with late-stage, inflammatory breast cancer, one that had spread, not to her organs, but within her lymph system.
Ever the athlete, it was about being proactive and moving on to the solution and carefully finding treatment, while also remaining optimistic.
"You sort of want to get in the gym, like OK, well let's start working on it. Let's go," she said. "So the mental battle is definitely the hardest. And there's a cultural issue too, you just hear the C word, I think we all just panic and it's fair, very fair to a large extent, but it's also super critically important to understand that there's a huge mental component."
That positive mental attitude falls in line with a deep belief of hers, that the mind can have strong effects on the body. By staying positive and ready to combat her illness, along with keeping a healthy lifestyle, Sisco is able to take charge in her own battle.
"Just being present. Trying not to live in the past or be anxious about the future because that just does not do anybody any good," Sisco said. "It's like shooting a free throw, like your whole career, you're told you never tell yourself don't miss, don't miss, right? You're planting that seed of miss. Instead you're like, 'I'm going to drain this free throw.' And that's the mentality I'm taking in is like I'm going to beat it. I'm going to and so I'm going to plan my future as I'm beating it.
"I've been focusing really hard on the mental aspect and mind over matter, but I feel like it's super critical to the point where I've asked my doctors, like I don't even want to hear a prognosis, like I don't really care what you think, because I know what I think, and that's far more important, frankly, than what you think, and so don't even tell me. I know I'm going to get through it and I don't need you to tell me that I'm not."
In the early stages, travel, finding doctors, and the right treatments took up the bulk of her time.
But she found an option in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she's relocating for three months as she begins treatment, one that takes a more holistic, integrative approach while still using traditional methods.
"The place I found in Phoenix does that more integrative approach where you're still doing some chemo and maybe some radiation, but they're also looking at some alternative and complimentary stuff that can help on its own or really help with the side effects of the chemo, and so they just do it different," Sisco explained. "They administer it differently, they administer it more slow, and they administer it with a bunch of adjunct therapies that are also super helpful that help your own immune system fight it. So I just feel like I wanted that more holistic approach."
However, insurance doesn't cover the integrative treatment.
So that is where Sisco's friend, Daphne Evans, comes in. Evans convinced Sisco to let her put together a Go Fund Me account to help pay for medical costs.
"It's been amazing to help someone like Skyla who has helped so many other people," Evans said. "Just grateful that she was willing to let us all pitch in and help her get through this treatment. I think this treatment is exactly what she needs and if we all stick together and send positive energy her way for three months, she'll get through this no problem."
The Go Fund Me started modestly.
"The first couple were my parents and I was like that's awesome, that's great," Sisco said with a laugh.
Then it began to gain some traction, to where it's now over $100,000, with donations coming from everywhere to help someone who has been a community staple whether it's club sports like ultimate Frisbee or hockey, or as a business owner at Pangea and Stave & Hoop in downtown Missoula.
Montana State, the Lady Griz program, the sisterhood of her former teammates and friends, and many, many more have been the catalysts behind the growth of the fundraiser.
All of that community involvement has come back to her when she needs it most.
"Physically, it almost felt like I was having a heart attack. Like there was so much gratitude and love in what people were writing," Sisco said about the support. "Just, I felt like either my heart was going to burst, or I was going to grow a second one because there was just no room for it. Thanks just seems silly.
"Like I want to say thank you to Missoula but that just seems so inadequate, but I'm very grateful, and I'll pay it forward somehow."
As she embarks on this next challenge and move, there's no question where her mind is in the face of this adversity.
"As low as you can get with somebody giving you this diagnosis, which is pretty low, and to go from that complete low to this like utter high of like, 'Oh my god, this many people care about me?' Man, everyone should get to experience that in their life because it's easy to forget that you're loved," Sisco said. "And it's very hard to forget you're loved when you see all of that amazing support.
"It is super helpful to just have people say you're strong, you got it."