Throughout my decades-long tennis career, I have faced some really tough opponents across the net—Chris Evert, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, and even the Williams sisters in doubles. What I never anticipated was that my toughest opponent would be off the court: cancer. Just over a month ago, after a routine mammogram and subsequent biopsy, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
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When I got the news, I was alone in my house. I was shocked, overwhelmed, and devastated. I am 53 years old, a lifelong athlete, strong, healthy, and had eaten nutritiously my entire life. These positive aspects of my lifestyle only fueled the “Why me?” questions those first few days.
But at the same time, I was ready to fight, and so I listened to my doctor and took the necessary steps to get the treatment that was right for me. I had a successful lumpectomy several weeks ago, and I will be undergoing six weeks of radiation to complete my treatment. I am very fortunate that the cancer was discovered early, so it hadn't spread to my lymph nodes.
My message to you other women out there is to be diligent about getting mammograms, to know your personal risk factors and family history of cancer, do self-exams, and have a good relationship with your doctor. We get busy and life gets in the way . . . but our health should be a priority. We need to be a champion of our own health and fitness.
If your insurance doesn't cover health screenings and if it's too expensive for you to pay out-of-pocket, check hospitals in your community for free breast cancer screening clinics. Also check community calendars or the Web for local health fairs or mobile health screening and mammogram tours.
Another important preventive measure is to pay attention to your stress levels. I've been trying to incorporate yoga into my routine for the obvious physical and mental benefits. And I'm working on surrounding myself with people who are positive, healthy influences. I firmly believe that having a good personal support network enhances our immunity and reduces our stress.
One of the many lessons I've learned from having survived this experience is not to take any part of life for granted. Every day, I'm thankful to have the health and strength to be able to stay active, contribute to the world, be with my family and friends, and live life to the fullest.
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