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Cancer was my personal 9/11

india Updated: Aug 08, 2010 00:48 IST
Hindustan Times
Martina Navratilova

This year more than 1.3 million women worldwide will hear the words "You have breast cancer". Four words that will change their lives forever. That single moment will become a turning point, the start of a tenacious battle against a killer.

The day she heard those four words, Martina Navratilova cried. A woman, who defected from Czechoslovakia at the age of 18, bravely blazed the trail for homosexual acceptance; a woman who many consider the best tennis player who ever lived, now braced for the fight of her life.

In a rare interview, Navratilova allows you into her personal battle with cancer. Find out what she believes saved her life.

You were struck with the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer. For most women, it can come as a shock…

I heard on February 24, which is kind of my 9/11. You don't forget the day when your life is completely changed forever. Although I did not hear the word cancer, I was told my biopsy was positive. My first thought was, ‘this cannot be happening' but you know it's happening. I mean I was in denial for about two seconds then I cried for, I don't know, a minute and then I said ‘ok what do we do'.

What were your thoughts when you were diagnosed with the disease and the fact that you would have to undergo radiation therapy?

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I thought I would keep it private, keep it quiet, nobody needs to know. It's a very personal issue, and I wanted to save my energy. And then I talked to some friends. When I broke the story, I was like on the front page of most newspapers in England. On March 15, I travelled to Colorado for the first stage of my treatment: a lumpectomy to remove the lump and some tissues.

The surgery was minor. So nothing to really knock me on my butt and really suffer from. So, I was fortunate that I got the kind of cancer that you can control this way.

How did the radiation therapy go?

It was a six-week process. They said ‘you'll get tired in the 4th, 5th, 6th week'. But I felt nothing. The treatment lasted only 3-4 minutes. They organise you. I'm marked on my breast where the radiation goes, so that you're positioned just right.

It's weird lying there getting the rays put in your body that are making sure that the cancer hopefully doesn't come back — but at the same time, it's killing good cells as well, it's like this mixed emotion.

It just feels weird lying on that table and getting zapped with poison basically, but its poison that will help you in the long run.

How has the tennis fraternity taken it?

The players have been really supportive and the whole tennis community, again it's like a family. An extended family and (I've) given a lot to tennis and to the community, now I'm taking it right back.

What are the after-effects of the radiation therapy?

I get a little sore and get a little run down. I go upstairs, I take the steps, two storeys, and I get a little more tired when I get to the top these days, but not bad. Overall, just a little sore, sort of like a pressure on the breast, like somebody puts you in a sort of grip and doesn't let go, it's not horrible yet, we'll see.

The doctors told me I might feel some depression now that it's finished and I have nothing else to do. I'm like: ‘No way am I going to be depressed'. I'm so happy. I've been waiting for a long time. Just being in the waiting room and seeing all of the women: half of them have a wig on. They're all marked.

They have the same markings here (points to chest). I'm just thankful that I didn't wait another year.

I feels the mammogram saved my life. I hope this programme will remind women to get regular breast screenings.

Courtesy: CNN ‘Martina: My Toughest Opponent'. The interview can be seen on CNN International on Sunday at 4:30pm and Tuesday at 6pm and 10pm.