Martina Navratilova, the winner of 59 Grand Slam titles and much loved television commentator, told Piers Morgan in an interview that she is cancer-free, months after discovering that she had stage 1 throat and breast cancer.
I knew it [the treatment] was going to be hard, but I didn’t realise it was going to be as hard as it really was. I love to eat, and eating was the hardest part of this whole treatment. I lost 15lbs, not because I wanted to, but because I just couldn’t get enough food in my body. Martina Navratilova
“As far as they know, I’m cancer-free,” the 66-year-old told Piers Morgan for TalkTV in an excerpt of an interview released on Tuesday. “I still need to do the right breast probably with radiation, but only for a couple of weeks, and that’s more preventative than anything else.”
The cancer was discovered during the WTA finals in Fort Worth, Texas, in November when Navratilova noticed a swelling in her neck and, having previously had breast cancer in 2010, the tennis pundit realised she needed to get it checked quickly.
“I noticed that my left lymph node was enlarged and I thought it was from a shingles vaccine I’d had a week before,” she said. “But then a couple of weeks on it didn’t go down so I called the doctor.”
A biopsy confirmed she had cancer, but Navratilova had to wait 4 agonising days to discover exactly where in the body it had originated before her doctor told her on a Friday afternoon: “We don’t know where it’s coming from. We need to find out. It could be the lungs or the liver or the kidneys.”
Her representative, Mary Greenham, said the results came back as stage 1 throat cancer.
“At the same time as Martina was undergoing the tests for the throat, a suspicious form was found in her breast, which was subsequently diagnosed as cancer, completely unrelated to the throat cancer,” Ms Greenham said.
Czech-born Navratilova, who became a US citizen in 1981 and afterwards came out as gay, won 18 Grand Slam singles titles and 31 women’s doubles titles plus 10 mixed doubles titles at the 4 majors, was ranked World No 1 for 332 weeks and won the WTA Player of the Year Award 7 times.
After her retirement from professional tennis in 2006, Navratilova has worked as a tennis presenter and commentator on television and radio.
Speaking to Piers Morgan on his TalkTV show, Navratilova admitted that finding out that she had not only throat cancer but also another breast cancer to go with it had left her emotionally drained, and she broke down crying after hearing the news.
“I find out it’s throat cancer, I think I could be dying, but then I find out, no, it’s very treatable,” she explained. “Then when I had the biopsy on the right breast the doctor was saying, ‘This doesn’t look great’. That’s when I started crying on the table as she’s still poking and getting samples out of my boob.
“And I’m like, ‘Oh great, now I have two cancers at the same time that are not related. Who else has two cancers at the same time?’ ”
Navratilova revealed that she was in ‘total panic’ after receiving the diagnosis, wondering if she would be able to last until next Christmas.
The former World No 1 also made a morbid joke about how she immediately made a bucket list, planning what to do if she was going to live only for one more year.
“I was in a total panic for three days thinking I may not see next Christmas,” she said. “The bucket list came into my mind of all the things I wanted to do.
“And this may sound really shallow, but I was like, okay, ‘Which kick-ass car do I really want to drive if I live like a year?’ “
She also spoke about the help she received from her good friend and former tennis rival Chris Evert, a cancer survivor herself, who had supported her throughout the journey, calling her a ‘star’ for having her back during this time.
“Our careers are always intertwined and then we follow each other this way,” Navratilova said. ”You can’t just make it up. The parallels are unbelievable. Same place. Some of the same nurses.
“Chris has been just a star. She has supported me so much through this as I supported her a year ago. We were always there for each other, no matter what.”
It has been a difficult and stressfull time for both Navratilova and her wife, Julia Lemigova, and they had drop their plans to adopt a child after her cancer diagnosis.
“We were thinking about adopting, but that’s definitely put on hold, and I don’t think it’s going to happen,” Navratilova said. “I think it’s just too complicated, and I only have so much energy right now.”
Navratilova married the 50-year old former Miss USSR in 2014, and the couple have two daughters, Victoria, 21, and Emma, 17.
Moscow-born Lemigova said: “We were waiting for a phone call to welcome a child home, and then we were fighting two cancers.
“So, today the first thing I’m thinking about is for Martina to get well and stronger, and we’ll see what happens.
“Life is full of surprises, who knows?”
Navratilova told Morgan in the interview: “I knew it [the treatment] was going to be hard, but I didn’t realise it was going to be as hard as it really was.
“I love to eat, and eating was the hardest part of this whole treatment. I lost 15lbs, not because I wanted to, but because I just couldn’t get enough food in my body.
“The radiation affects your throat and mouth, which start closing up. I couldn’t even yawn or sneeze, and I only had three weeks of the proton therapy when the normal course is seven weeks.”
She had the radiation treatment every day for 3 weeks, mixed with 3 weekly bouts of chemotherapy.
“That was the hard part because the first week was both chemo and radiation at the same time,” she added “When you start feeling lousy, you’re not sure if it’s from the chemo or the proton.
“I didn’t really feel the proton until week three, but then you get a sore mouth and your throat starts closing. Everything’s swollen and very uncomfortable, and the proton makes your saliva weird. You don’t really taste things the right way. Chemo does the same thing to your throat but then it makes it dry.
“So, you’re just hit from all ends, and I don’t think the doctors do a very good job of telling you how the shit is going to hit the fan.
“You know they tell you, ‘Well this could happen, or that could happen’, but everybody’s different and they don’t really get you ready for how it is.”
Lemigova told Morgan she was ‘so proud’ of the way her wife had come through her treatment with ‘so much strength and positivity’.
“When your wife is diagnosed with cancer – and especially two cancers – it puts life into perspective,” Lemigova said. “Everything that seems to be important is suddenly not that important.”
Navratilova is now planning bucket list holidays in Kenya and the Galapagos Islands.
“I still don’t feel great, but I feel better every day,” she said. “I’m starting to taste things finally.
“So, I’m still dealing with recovery but, overall, I think, just really seize the days, you know. You can never have them back again.
“And I don’t want to waste my energy on things that aren’t meaningful, and that don’t make a difference, not just for me but people around me, and maybe the world at large as well.”