Page last updated at 01:53 GMT, Tuesday, 20 April 2010 02:53 UK

'I've been healthy all my life but I still got cancer'

By Neil Bowdler
Health Reporter, BBC News


Martina's fighting talk after breast cancer diagnosis

Earlier this month tennis legend Martina Navratilova told the world she had breast cancer. Today she is in the boxing ring.

Gloved up and feet bare, she climbs through the ropes into the ring with the confidence of a pro - and is soon happily throwing punches at a freelance journalist.

The location is the Fight for Peace Academy, an east London project in which the young are encouraged to channel their anger and frustrations into boxing and other contact sports. The visit is part of her work for the Laureus sporting foundation.

We as women are so used to taking care of everybody else, but don't take care of ourselves.
Martina Navratilova

But it comes as the nine-times Wimbledon women's singles champion has been facing a battle of her own. She has already called it her own "personal 9/11" - and she is still yet to undergo radiotherapy.

The diagnosis came with a telephone call from her doctor. She was expecting all to be fine - everything had indicated it would be.

Instead, she was told she had a ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) - a breast cancer that starts inside the milk ducts. The good news was that it was non-invasive and that a lumpectomy, which she has now undergone, followed by six weeks of radiotherapy, should suffice.

Martina gloved up in the ring
Martina gloved up and in the ring

"Right now I'm technically cancer-free and the radiation is just to help make sure it doesn't come back so I should be OK," she explains in an interview following her short bout in the ring.

She says she will be biking herself to the radiotherapy sessions in May, and she has absolutely no plan of taking it easy. Ice hockey, triathlon bike rides and tennis - she is doing it all - and all will help her recovery, she says.

And just for good measure, she plans to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in December for the Laureus foundation.

"You should try to hopefully go on with your life and do what you love to do and I've always wanted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, so why not now?"

Not in control

But there is also a recognition from Navratilova that cancer is one thing you cannot control, much as the athlete in her would like to.

Breast cancer is now the most common cancer in the UK with 46,000 women diagnosed in 2007
In the last 10 years, female breast cancer rates in the UK have increased by 5%
Worldwide, more than a million women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year
Source: Cancer Research UK

"Obviously, I'm totally not in control. I'm trying to do my part as far as being healthy and eating healthy and all that. I've done that all my life but I still got cancer."

There is also a determination to speak out and to urge other women not to make the mistake she did of going for four years without a mammogram, a lapse of judgement which could have proven immensely costly.

"We as women are so used to taking care of everybody else, but don't take care of ourselves," she says.

"If there's something going on, you should find out as soon as possible. Don't forget you need to take care of yourself."

High-profile names can help raise awareness of a disease or condition, and bring it under the spotlight. This video series talks to those in the public eye about their personal reasons for speaking out.

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