Many of our patients know that Dr. Favor loves tennis! Her enthusiasm for a competitive game led her to high school and college state tennis championships. In 1972, when Dr. Favor was still in grade school, Hall of Fame player Chris Evert began her professional tennis career. Evert’s talent and, above all, her mental toughness inspired a generation of women players including young Judi Favor.
Last week, Chris Evert announced that she has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The road ahead will surely test that mental toughness. But by sharing her difficult personal story, she is again able to inspire and influence so many women.
Ovarian cancer is a very serious disease because it is seldom diagnosed until it has spread beyond the ovary. Annual screening mammograms have reduced breast cancer deaths because they reveal small breast cancer lesions in their early stages. We do not yet have such a screening test for ovarian cancer. Two years ago, Chris Evert’s younger sister lost her battle with ovarian cancer at age 62. When Jeanne Evert Dubin’s cancer was found, she already had late-stage disease.
After Jeanne’s cancer diagnosis, she had genetic testing for an abnormal form of the BRCA gene that increases risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Her test was negative, and her family members were advised that they did not need to be tested. But we are making great progress in genetic testing. This fall, discovery of new abnormal forms of the BRCA gene changed that earlier recommendation. Subsequently, Chris Evert’s genetic test showed she also had the abnormal gene. She underwent a hysterectomy in December. Surgery did not reveal an obvious cancer, but the pathologist’s microscopic examination of the tissue that was removed found cancerous cells within the fallopian tube. Her doctor recommended a second surgery to test lymph nodes and other tissue samples for cancer. When cancerous cells are found in lymph nodes or other areas of the pelvis, the cancer is considered Stage III. In this stage, treatment is very likely to be less successful.
Chris Evert received good news. Since no cancer was found in lymph nodes or other tissue outside the fallopian tube, her disease is considered Stage I. Her surgery to remove the cancer, along with chemotherapy treatment, is very likely to cure her disease. In her own words, her wait for the pathology results was “The longest three days of my life. Stage 1 or stage 3…If I’m clear of cancer, I’m a different statistic.”
Chris Evert is aware that her sister’s genetic testing probably saved her life. Her advice to other women, “Be your own advocate. Know your family’s history.” Dr. Favor agrees. She is an aggressive advocate for testing when family history suggests the possibility of a genetic cancer risk. She reminds patients that the genetic history of male and female family member of both their mother’s and father’s family is important—even for breast and gynecologic cancers. Read more from Dr. Favor about genetic testing.
Chris Evert has worked on behalf of women’s issues for decades, both within and outside the sports world. Her charities have raised over $30 million dollars to fight drug addiction in South Florida. The picture above was taken at one such fundraiser. (Dr. Favor actually hit a few with her tennis idol!) As Ms. Evert confronts her cancer, we commend her for her openness. Women will benefit from hearing her story.