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Martina Navratilova rings NASDAQ bell for breast cancer awareness: “I had let my checkups slide for four years”
After overcoming her own cancer scare in 2010, Navratilova is dedicated to using her platform to remind women to get regular health screenings during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Published Oct 04, 2022
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October is always a busy time of the year for Martina Navratilova, who spent part of her Monday kicking off Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the heart of New York City’s Times Square.
The 18-time Grand Slam singles champion joined executives from the WTA tour and title sponsor Hologic as they rang the NASDAQ bell to raise awareness for breast cancer and the importance of routine preventative care appointments like cancer screenings.
A veteran at ringing that iconic bell and herself a survivor of breast cancer, Navratilova tells Baseline that she was thrilled to see the wonder in the faces of the people around her, like wife Julia Lemigova.
“I was ringing the bell at the start of the US Open with Tennis Channel like six weeks ago,” Navratilova recalls over the phone. “So this was not new for me, but still fun. It was with a new company and great partnership.
“I enjoyed everybody else's experience being there for the first time. Most people, anyway, were put there for the first time so it was funny seeing everybody's faces—including my wife Julia who also came out there and she enjoyed it.”
Navratilova similarly turns her focus outward when recalling her own personal experiences. After overcoming a breast cancer scare, she has become dedicated to using her platform to remind women to get their regular health screenings and educate them on the dangers of “letting it slide”.
The life changing news came via one of those routine checkups, Navratilova says. She was diagnosed in February 2010 with ductal carcinoma in situ, which is considered the earliest form of breast cancer.
Because it was caught early, the cancer had not yet spread; it was quickly treated with a lumpectomy followed by six weeks of radiation treatment. Despite the overwhelmingly positive prognosis and outcome, the experience left her rattled.
“I was in great shape when I went [for my regular checkup]. But I wasn't playing any more, so I wasn’t paying as much attention to my body,” Navratilova says. “I was still taking care of myself, eating the right things because I like to feel good. I did not feel anything.
“It was only after the diagnosis that I was really stressed and I was really tired. And I realized it was only because I knew about it…”
But had she put off her medical screening for another year, it could have been a different story. In between a busy “nomad” lifestyle and moving to a new city and having to change doctors, Navratilova says she left those important appointments on the backburner.
The American Cancer Society recommends annual breast cancer screenings for women aged 45 or older. But before Navratilova knew it, she had gone four years without a routine mammogram.
“I had let it slide for four years. I didn't realize it was four years and I got lucky,” she admits. “But many women are not that lucky.”
After her diagnosis and recovery, Navratilova went public with the news on ABC’s Good Morning America in hopes of inspiring more women to prioritize their health and regular screenings. She has continued to dedicate her time to the cause in the years since being in remission, through activities like ringing the NASDAQ bell or a pre-US Open panel discussion with Hologic.
“Chris Evert also has gone through cancer, much more serious than mine, this year,” she added. “And she came out on the other side and she also went public with it, just to raise awareness for women to do better on our yearly checkups.
“Don’t postpone them, and don’t let things slide. It’s not being selfish to put our health first.”
Now, the 65-year-old makes sure to get her screening once a year in Aspen, with the trip doubling as a ski vacation: “I definitely haven’t missed one since,” she says with pride. Navratilova recommends all women do the same: set a date once a year that is easy to recall and then book the appointment early.
Navratilova’s experience of missing routine checkups tracks with the findings of Hologic, whose Global Women’s Health Index is one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive studies focused on women’s health and wellbeing.
The study found that only 12% of women around the world had been tested for any type of cancer in the previous 12 months, figures that Hologic CEO Steve MacMillan hopes to help turn around through his company’s work.
“Our recently released findings from the second year of the Hologic Global Women’s Health Index highlight the unfortunate reality that more than two billion women worldwide weren’t tested for any type of cancer, including breast cancer, in the past 12 months, making the work we do to increase awareness even more important,” MacMillan said in a statement.
He added, “I’m honored to stand alongside the women of the WTA in recognizing Breast Cancer Awareness Month as we continue to underscore the importance of preventive care and annual mammography screening.”
This was the 16th time that Hologic, a medical technology company with a focus on women’s health and the pioneer of 3D mammography, had rang the bell to raise awareness about breast cancer.
It’s that type of long-established commitment to prioritizing women’s health that Navratilova says makes Hologic a great title sponsor for the women’s tennis tour.
“I love the partnership because it really makes sense: It's all about women,” she said. “We athletes have to take care of our body because it's our livelihood. But now we're also reminding women to take care of our bodies because our lives are at stake. So there's nothing more important than that.
“We athletes, we can rehab our injuries, but cancer? You can’t rehab that. The sooner you can catch it the better.”