Chaunté Lowe and Novlene Williams-Mills: A tribute to Athletes who survived Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Awareness

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Breast Cancer is the most common form of cancer in women worldwide, and in 2018 alone there were over 2 million new cases. As the month of October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, draws to an end, we at ThePapare.com have chosen to honour 2 incredible athletes who have survived the deadly disease and are an inspiration to us all.

Chaunté Lowe

Chante Lowe, a name perhaps unfamiliar to many of us, is one of the hopefuls waiting for Tokyo 2021. For Lowe, making it through to the Games will be an achievement that deserves applause in itself. The reason being, that she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in the summer of 2019. Since then, the 36-year-old mother of three and 4-time Olympian has had a double mastectomy and undergone chemotherapy. But, could she go from chemo to the Olympics in little under a year? Lowe’s way back to claiming a spot to her 5th Olympic Games seemed bleak before the COVID 19 Pandemic struck. Beyond the devastation loss of life around the world, the pandemic was a major hit on athletes, many for whom the timing could not have been worse. However, for Lowe it meant an additional year to train, time she desperately needed. 

“I needed every single day of that time to be able to train, I’ve come back from pregnancy three times, so I know that it’s not impossible. I know I could have done it [in 2020], but it would have been a lot harder.” – Chaunté Lowe (Sports Illustrated)

Chaunte Lowe celebrates her gold medal at women’s high jump final during the 2012 World Indoor Athletics Championships in Istanbul. ©REUTERS

A 37-year-old mom of three who has just survived breast cancer wouldn’t usually seem like someone you’d put your money on to get through the most competitive athletic programme in the world to make it to the Olympic Games. But a woman who made her Olympic debut in 2004 at the age of 20, made every US Olympic team since then, set indoor and outdoor records, came back from giving birth 3 times and now survived cancer, you wouldn’t want to bet against her.

Novlene Williams-Mills

The sight of a strong woman in black, green and yellow speeding through the track is a familiar sight for anyone who has followed athletics in the past decade or so. The Jamaican men have dominated their fiercest competitors from the USA, thanks to one Usain Bolt, but for the women, the tussle has been more closely fought as they emerged as a serious threat to American dominance on the track. One of the women powering that charge was Novlene Williams-Mills, who has 9 medals across the World Championships and Olympic Games in the 4x400m Relay, including 1 Gold (WC), 7 Silvers (3 OLY, 4 WC) and 1 Bronze (OLY) and 1 World Championship Bronze in the 400m. 

When she received the devastating news of her cancer diagnosis, she was just weeks away from competing in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Despite her diagnosis and with assurance from her doctor, Williams-Mills decided that she would go ahead to compete at the games and schedule surgery for afterwards; a silver in the 4x400m and a 5th place finish in the individual 400m followed.

Williams-Mills required 4 surgeries, ultimately having to do a double mastectomy to rid her body of cancer. By April 2014 she was back on the track, just 3 months after her last surgery. 

“The times were not the times I used to run. But it was a confidence booster for me because, knowing the training I had, knowing what I’d been through the past couple months … and to still be able to be like, ‘OK, I still got it.’ It’s not that bad.” – Novlene Williams-Mills (SurvivorNet)

Novlene Williams-Mills celebrating after securing the Women’s 4x400m Gold Medal at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing. ©Getty Images

In 2013, with the encouragement of her family, Williams-Mills decided to go public with her diagnosis. She was hesitant at first, she ‘didn’t want cancer to make people forget about what I’d done on the track’, but her doubts were cleared by the thousands of fans and colleagues who got in touch to tell her that she had inspired them to take on challenges in their lives. Her courage in the face of adversity brought her the ultimate reward when she anchored team Jamaica to a gold in the 4x400m at the IAAF World Championships in 2015, in Beijing, beating archrivals USA. She has since retired from the sport, following an illustrious 12-year international career.