Tennis star Martina Navratilova survived breast cancer diagnosis

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Tennis great Martina Navratilova still remembers when, at age 53, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

The athlete had always been fit, ate a nutritious diet and led a healthy lifestyle, but it had been four years since his last mammogram.

“I was so shocked that something was happening to my body,” Navratilova, now 65, told TODAY.

“But you can be the healthiest person on the planet and still have cancer. You certainly improve the odds by being healthy, but you don’t totally eliminate the possibility.

Navratilova was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ, which has been called “the earliest form of breast cancer” or “stage 0 breast cancer.” DCIS is marked by abnormal cells in the lining of a breast duct that have not spread to other tissues, but have the potential to become invasive in some cases, the The National Cancer Institute noted.

It accounts for 1 in 5 new breast cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. Most patients have no symptoms.

Along with talking about her own experience, Navratilova dealt with the ovarian cancer diagnosis of her friend and great tennis rival, Chris Evert.

Chris Evert and Navratilova share a happy moment during the BNP Paribas WTA Singapore Final on October 24, 2018 in Singapore.Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

“Chris was such a brave warrior through it all and she also went public for the same reason – she wanted to make sure women were aware of what they could do to prevent this from happening,” said Navratilova.

The tennis legend, who lives in Miami, recently shared her story with TODAY. The interview was organized by Hologic, a medical technology company that sells breast imaging devices and sponsors the Women’s Tennis Association Tour.

How were you diagnosed with breast cancer?

In January 2010, I had a mammogram. I thought it was two years between my mammograms, but it’s been four years. I had changed doctors and had not made an appointment for the annual examination. I just put it back. I was on the road all the time, so it’s hard to keep up.

When I finally went, they called me back the next week and said, “We need to take a closer look because something is wrong.” I went for a better mammogram, and then they called me back and said, ‘We still don’t like it. You need to go for a biopsy.

So I went to do that. I remember lying upside down on an icy table. The next day my doctor called me and said it was positive.

I cried for about 15 seconds, then I said, OK, what do we do? What is the next step ?

What do you remember about your diagnosis?

The stress of being diagnosed with cancer. I had hockey practice in Aspen, Colorado that night and wanted to play – I love hockey – but I was so tired. I’m like, what’s wrong with me? I ended up quitting the practice because I was afraid of hurting myself or someone else.

The next day I was playing tennis and had to rest every five minutes.

There was nothing wrong with my body at the time – it was all emotional trauma that made me feel so tired. It was literally a shock to my system. It took me about two weeks to get back to normal physical condition.

That’s when I realized how much stress really impacts our bodies without us knowing it. I’ve always been good enough not to worry about things, but I really don’t worry about things now, because it’s just not worth it – it just beats you.

Iga Swiatek of Poland receives the winner's trophy from Martina Navratilova
Iga Świątek of Poland is presented with the winner’s trophy by Navratilova after winning the US Open Tennis Championship on September 10, 2022 in New York City.Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

What was your treatment?

I had a lumpectomy and six weeks of radiation therapy.

As a tennis player, you are always looking for solutions. Things happen pretty quickly on the pitch during a game. So I jumped right into the solution right away and had a great team of friends supporting me.

What was the hardest part of your treatment?

Physically, the lumpectomy went well, but they also removed lymph nodes from under my armpit, which kept me from lifting my arm for a few weeks. I didn’t suffer too much from the radiation on my skin, but I felt tired.

The hardest part was more emotional stress than physical stress. You think it’s fine, but you have to go on daily for radiation where there’s this kind of poison that burns the bad tissue, but also the good tissue. You feel like an irradiated strawberry every day. I was happy when it was over.

How are you today?

I no longer have cancer and I haven’t missed an annual exam. There is less stress now when I have a mammogram. But the first four or five years after the initial diagnosis, it was really difficult to go and wait for the results. But then it was like this massive relief. I was flying high after they said everything was fine.

Celebrities Attend 2022 US Open Tennis Championships
Navratilova received a lot of attention at this year’s US Open after watching a match sitting next to former boxer Mike Tyson with her dog in her lap. “They made Mike Tyson sit next to me. I’ve known him for years, so we’re going back,” she said. “Lulu kept licking his arm.”Jean Catuffe / GC Images

What do you want women to know about regular screening?

There are far too many women dying of breast cancer and many of them would still be alive if doctors had discovered it sooner. Don’t delay because a lot can happen in a year.

Women aren’t afraid to know, we just don’t take care of ourselves because we take care of everyone else. You have to put yourself first for change when it comes to this, of course.

Pick a date on the calendar that will remind you, like your birthday, your wedding anniversary, April 15 — I don’t care. Just set a date on the calendar and don’t miss it, don’t put it off.

Have you changed your lifestyle since your diagnosis?

No, because I was already quite healthy. I didn’t change my diet, although I did more juicing afterwards.

It’s more about not worrying about things that just don’t matter. My father used to say that if it doesn’t affect your health, it’s not worth the poo. It’s so true, because when I was diagnosed, the whole world stopped for me. Everything else has become useless.

When shit really hits the fan, we start paying attention. So I’m just begging ladies to be careful before the shit hits the fan.

How did you stay positive and get through that?

It’s really essential to surround yourself with people who give you good energy rather than bad and you know who they are.

In tennis, you have to stay positive because if you stay negative, you will never win a match. We train for this and this training is very practical.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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