MARTINA Navratilova has revealed she is now cancer free – as she told how she feared not ‘seeing next Christmas’ after her devastating double diagnosis.
In an emotional interview with Piers Morgan, the tennis ace tells how she had to put on hold plans to adopt a child with model wife Julia Lemigova as she fought both throat and breast cancer.
Martina Navratilova met with Piers Morgan for an exclusive interview
The tennis legend became emotional as she spoke to the presenter
Martina lifting the Wimbledon women’s singles plate in 1985 – her sixth Wimbledon win
And the champ with 59 major titles told how she gulped back tears when Sir Elton John’s I’m Still Standing was played by nursing staff during her radiation treatment.
In a world exclusive interview with Piers for his TalkTV show, Martina, 66, said: “As far as they know I’m cancer-free.”
She’s due to have more preventative radiation on her breast for two weeks, but says: “Then I should be should be good to go.”
Speaking of her original diagnosis she explained her terror, saying: “I was in a total panic for three days thinking I may not see next Christmas.
“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?’”
After three agonising nights they were finally able to tell her she had treatable throat cancer – and that she had breast cancer too.
When her radiation treatment began, she gulped back tears when Sir Elton John’s I’m Still Standing was played by nursing staff.
Married Martina – who wore a specially-fitted mask during the proton therapy procedure – revealed: “You pick your music that you want to listen to.
“One time I picked Elton John and then he starts singing I’m Still Standing which he dedicated to me at a concert in Paris during the French Open in the ‘80s.
“So, when I’m in this mask not able to move and that song came on and I’m like, ‘Oh great, so I can’t really cry because I can’t swallow, I can’t move’.
“So, you have tears of feeling sorry for yourself.”
Now clear of cancer, Martina had visited doctors with an enlarged lymph node in her neck during November’s WTA Finals in Fort Worth, Texas.
Having previously had breast cancer in 2010, the tennis pundit realised she needed to get it checked quickly.
Martina added: “I noticed that my left lymph node was enlarged and I thought it was from a shingles vaccine I’d had a week before.
Martina and model wife Julia were forced to put their plans to adopt another child on hold
Martina was in tears as her pal Elton John’s song played during her cancer treatment
Martina dominated women’s tennis in the 70s and 80s alongside rival Chris Evert
“But then a couple of weeks on it didn’t go down so I called the doctor.”
A biopsy confirmed she had cancer but Martina had to wait four agonising days to discover exactly where in the body it had originated.
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.”
The star – who dominated women’s tennis in the 70s and 80s alongside great rival Chris Evert – had to wait until the following Monday morning for confirmation that she had stage one throat cancer.
Recalling her fear of death, she told Piers: “This was the first week in December, [I’m thinking] I will see this Christmas but maybe not the next one.”
Doctors told Martina the cancer was “extremely treatable” and offered a “95 per cent” chance of a full recovery.
During their interview Piers showed Martina a video of her ringing a bell at the clinic to signal the end of her treatment.
Tearing up, she revealed: “I’m crying just looking at it again because you just can’t wait to ring the bell.
Martina – who married former Miss USSR Julia Lemigova, 50, in 2014 – added: “So, phew, big, big relief, but emotionally I’ve been up and down because of what the doctor initially told me.
“I’m like, okay, so what do we do now? You get into tennis mode, that’s where having been a champion athlete comes in pretty handy.”
The tennis commentator then had a positron emission tomography (PET) scan to discover exactly where the cancer was in her neck. The test also detected cancer in her breast.
In 2010 she’d undergone a lumpectomy to remove cancer from her left breast. This time, an 8mm tumour had formed in her right breast.
The nine-times Wimbledon Singles winner admitted the double cancer diagnosis left her “very up and down”.
The star said: “I find out it’s throat cancer, I think I could be dying, but then I find out, no, it’s very treatable.
“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?’”
Martina and Julia, who have two daughters – Victoria, 21, and Emma, 17 – put plans for adopting another child on indefinite hold.
Moscow-born Julia 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?”
Czech–American Martina added: “We were thinking about adopting but that’s definitely put on hold, and I don’t think it’s going to happen.
“I think it’s just too complicated and I only have so much energy right now.”
Widely considered one of tennis’s all time greats, Martina pledged in January “to fight” the cancer “with all I have got”.
Martina told Piers in the interview to be screened on TalkTV tomorrow night: “I knew it 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 .”
By chance she was treated at the same New York clinic as her great tennis adversary Chris Evert.
Last year, former World No1 Chris, 68, completed six chemotherapy sessions to treat stage one ovarian cancer.
Martina told Piers: “Our careers are always intertwined and then we follow each other this way.
“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.”
Former rivals Chris and Martina have forged a strong friendship
Martina and wife Julia told Piers of the toll the diagnosis took on them
Martina had the radiation treatment every day for three weeks mixed with three weekly bouts of chemotherapy.
She added: “That was the hard part because the first week was both chemo and radiation at the same time.
“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 s**t 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.”
The champ admits the treatment is “definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done”.
After crying for a total of “15 minutes” Martina says she started to “suck it up” after seeing children being treated in the clinic.
She said: “When you see kids, that’s when you really stop feeling sorry for yourself because of what the parents are going through.
“There were kids that were six to eight months old, newborns practically.
“And they have to send them to sleep to do the treatment, so they don’t move.
“That’s when you don’t feel sorry for yourself anymore. You just have to suck it up and deal with it.”
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Her model wife Julia told Piers she was “so proud” of the way Martina had come through her treatment with “so much strength and positivity”.
The 50-year-old said: “When your wife is diagnosed with cancer – and especially two cancers – it puts life into perspective.
“Everything that seems to be important is suddenly not that important.”
As for the future, Martina plans bucket list holidays in Kenya and the Galapagos Islands, and says: “I still don’t feel great but I feel better every day. 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.”
- Watch the interview in full on Tuesday night from 8pm on TalkTV