Tennis legend Chris Evert, who won 18 Grand Slam titles and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1995, has ovarian cancer. She first spoke about her diagnosis on ESPN, where she works as an on-air analyst.
“I’ve lived a very charmed life. Now I have some challenges ahead of me,” Evert, 62, said in a piece written by her friend and colleague Chris McKendry for ESPN.
The cancer is in 1C, the last phase of stage one, and hasn’t spread anywhere else in her body. The vast majority of ovarian cancer cases — more than 75 per cent — aren’t caught until advanced stages because there are few symptoms.
Evert’s regular health checks had all come back normal, including ultrasounds and a test for cancer antigens.
“‘I am so lucky,’ she says with the conviction of someone who has witnessed the unlucky,” McKendry wrote.
“Three months or so from now, [Evert would] be Stage 3 or 4,” her surgeon Dr. Joel Cardenas of Cleveland Clinic Florida told McKendry. By then, her cancer likely would have reached her abdomen, lymph nodes, or intestine, making it much harder to treat. The five-year survival rate for Stage 1C is 85 per cent; in stage 3C it’s 39 per cent.
Evert had known she was at risk for ovarian cancer because her sister Jeanne Evert Dubin — also a professional tennis player — was diagnosed with it at a late stage, and died February 2020, at age 62. Like many other cancers, your risk for ovarian cancer increases if a family member is diagnosed with it.
During her treatment, Jeanne had tested negative for the pathogenic variant of the BRCA1 gene, which makes people more susceptible to breast and ovarian cancers. But it turned out that was a false negative. In October 2021, the family received a call that subsequent testing had shown Jeanne was in fact a carrier of the pathogenic BRCA1 gene, which meant her close relatives could be carriers, too.
“Genetic information that her sister left behind likely saved Chrissie’s life,” McKendry wrote.
Evert sent her blood for genetic testing, and had a pre-emptive hysterectomy in early December. By mid-December, she found out she had cancer, but that it had been removed during the hysterectomy and it hadn’t spread.
The next step is chemotherapy. After she undergoes those treatments, there’s a more than 90 per cent chance that her cancer will never return, McKendry wrote.
“As someone who has always had control over my life, I have no idea how I’ll respond to chemotherapy,” Evert said. But the memory of her sister Jeanne will help, she said. “When I go into chemo, she is my inspiration. I’ll be thinking of her. And she’ll get me through it.”
Anyone born with ovaries is at risk of ovarian cancer, Ovarian Cancer Canada points out. While there are very few regular symptoms, some warning signs may include bloating, fatigue, abdominal pain, changes in urinary or bowel habits and irregular periods.
Gene mutations more common in French Canadians
The gene BRCA mutations associated with ovarian cancer are more common in French Canadians and people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. And people with a parent, sibling or child who has ovarian cancer should talk to their doctors about genetic testing.
Evert said she shared her story in part because she wants people to know more about the condition.
“Be your own advocate,” she said. “Know your family’s history. Have total awareness of your body, follow your gut and be aware of changes. Don’t try to be a crusader and think this will pass.”