Tennis player Martina Navratilova still remembers the moment she was diagnosed at the age of 53 breast cancer.
This athlete has always been in good health, ate a nutritious diet and led a healthy lifestyle, but it’s been four years since her last mammogram.
“I was so shocked that there was anything going on in my body,” Navratilova, now 65, told TODAY.
“But you can be the healthiest person on the planet and still have cancer. You definitely improve the odds by being healthy, but you don’t completely eliminate the possibility.”
Navratilova was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ, which has been called “form I breast cancer” or “stage 0 breast cancer”. Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is characterized by abnormal cells in the lining of the breast duct that have not spread to other tissues, but have the potential to become invasive in some cases, The National Cancer Institute noted.
It accounts for 1 in 5 new breast cancers, according to American Cancer Society. Most patients have no symptoms.
Besides talking about her own experience, Navratilova is working on processing a file Her friend and rival Chris Evert diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
“Kris was a brave warrior through it all, and she also made the same statement — she wanted to make sure women were aware of what they could do to prevent this from happening,” Navratilova said.
The tennis legend, who lives in Miami, recently shared her story with TODAY. The interview was arranged 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 of 2010, I had mammogram. I thought it had been two years between mammograms, but there were four. I’ve changed doctors and haven’t scheduled my annual checkup. I just stopped him. I was on the road the whole time, so it’s hard to keep track.
When I finally went, they called me the following week and said, “We need to take a closer look because something might be off.” I went to get the best mammogram and then they called again and said, “We still don’t like it. You need to have a biopsy.”
So I went to do it. I remember lying upside down on a very cold table. The next day, my doctor called me and said it was positive.
I cried for about 15 seconds and then I said okay what do we do? What is the next step?
What do you remember about the diagnosis?
Cancer diagnosis stress. I was playing hockey in Aspen, Colorado, that night and wanted to play – I love hockey – but I was too tired. I’m impressed, what’s wrong with me? I ended up stopping this practice because I was afraid I would either hurt 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 the emotional trauma that made me feel so tired. It was really a shock to my system. It took about two weeks before I was back to normal physically.
That’s when I realized how much Stress really affects our bodies without us knowing it. I’ve always been good at not worrying about things, but I truly Don’t worry about things now, because it’s not worth it – it’s getting over you.
What was your treatment?
I had had lumpectomy and six weeks of radiation.
As a tennis player, you are always looking for solutions. Things happen very quickly on the field in the match. So I came up with the solution right away and I had a great team of friends who supported me.
What is the hardest part of your treatment?
Physically, the lumpectomy was fine, but they also took the lymph nodes from under my arm pit, so I couldn’t raise my arm for two weeks. I didn’t suffer much from the radiation, but I did feel tired.
The hard part was more emotional stress than physical stress. You think you’re fine, but you have to continue daily exposure to radiation as there is this kind of poison that burns bad tissue, but also good tissue. You feel like a strawberry exposed to radiation every day. I was happy when it ended.
How are you today?
I am cancer free and have never missed an annual exam. There is less stress now when I go for a mammogram. But for the first four or five years after the initial diagnosis, it was really hard to go and wait for the results. But then it was such a huge relief. I was flying high after they said everything was fine.
What do you want women to know about regular screening?
There are a lot of women who die of breast cancer and many of them would survive if doctors found it early. Don’t put it off because a lot can happen in a year.
Women are not afraid of knowledge, we do not take care of ourselves because we take care of everyone. You have to put yourself first for change when it comes to that, for sure.
Pick a date on the calendar that will remind you, like your birthday, your wedding anniversary, April 15th – I don’t care. Just make an appointment on the calendar and don’t miss it, don’t put it off.
Have you made any lifestyle changes since your diagnosis?
No, because I was already healthy. I did not change my diet, although I ate more juice after that.
It’s more about not worrying about things that don’t matter. My dad used to say if it’s not about your health, it’s not worth it. It’s so true, because when I was diagnosed, the whole world stopped for me. Everything else became irrelevant.
When the s – t really hits the fan, we start to pay attention. So I’m just begging women to pay attention before s-t hits fans.
How did you stay positive and get over this?
It is really necessary to surround yourself with people who give you good energy instead of bad energy and know who they are.
In tennis we have to stay positive because if you stay negative you will never win a match. We practice that and this training is very useful.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.