Sport

Novelene Williams-Mills braved breast cancer to win National Trials

Tuesday, July 02, 2013 | 9:11 AM    

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KINGSTON, Jamaica — Jamaica's 400m champion, Novelene Williams-Mills was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 25, 2012.

According to a report on www.dailymail.ok.uk, Mills told no one apart from her husband of five years, Jameel, family and friends.

She then went on to win the 400 metres at the Jamaican Senior National Championships that weekend in 50.60 seconds, booking her place in the Olympic team.

Williams-Mills finished fifth in the 400m at the London 2012 Olympics and won a bronze medal in the 4 x 400m relay. 

The report stated that just three days after the Games surgeons removed a small lump in her breast. She then had a double mastectomy, a further operation to cut out the remaining cancerous cells and reconstructive surgery. Her final operation was on January 18.

Last week Williams-Mills lay on the track as the Jamaican 400m champion after qualifying for the World Championships in Moscow this August by running 50.01secs. 

‘I’m back,’ she thought. ‘I’ve still got it.’ 

Until then, the DailyMail said, Williams-Mills has told nobody outside her close circle about her devastating illness. 

"She did not want any sympathy; she just wanted to concentrate on winning the most difficult race of her life," they said.

The 31 year old, five-time world and three-time Olympic medallist said she “just happened to mention she had found a small lump” at a routine gynaecologist appointment and her life changed forever.

“It feels like your own body has betrayed you, like I’ve been stabbed,” she said. “I’m an athlete. I workout, I train. It can’t be possible.” 

Williams-Mills’ older sister, died from ovarian cancer at the age of 38 in 2010. 

The Dailymail reported, ‘I competed at the Olympics, I got fifth in the 400 and third in the 4 x 400,’ she says. ‘Was it crazy? Yes.

‘That’s everybody’s dream, to run at the Olympics. But I was thinking about my hurdles that I have to come back to fight. I was thinking: “Am I going to survive this?” 

“My teammates in the relay did not know. But I was standing on the podium and I didn’t know if I would ever run another race.’”

There is no training programme for fighting cancer. Williams-Mills, a ‘stubborn, competitive’ spirit, can only laugh at the lack of control she felt; an uncomfortable journey for any one, let alone an elite athlete, the report said. 

It was dread that convinced her to have both breasts removed when the initial lumpectomy returned inconclusive results. She could not live in fear of ‘what if?’. 

Yet even then the ordeal was not over: she had a further operation to remove more cancerous cells; a moment when she felt like ‘the devil had control’.

‘It’s a very high-risk, aggressive cancer and I had to approach it aggressively,’ said Williams-Mills. 

‘A double mastectomy eliminated my chance of getting it from 99 per cent to maybe three per cent.

‘They said I could have six weeks of radiation or maybe an hour and a half of surgery. I take the hour and a half. I wanted to win and I had to fight with every single possible thing that I have.

‘Like Angelina Jolie, my chance of having it was way high. But I had choices to make. A lot of people don’t.’ The tears start to fall.

‘The mastectomy was scary because this is what makes me a lady. What am I going to look like? 

‘It was very difficult. I want to have kids one day and you see all those mothers out there nursing and I’m not going to be able to do that.

‘There were days I didn’t know if I could make it. I was in so much pain. I cried because they tell me that tears are a language that God understands. 

“I hoped my husband still loved me the same. We met when I was like this and now he’s seeing a whole different person. But I didn’t have to worry about him. He was my nurse, my rock.’”

Running, after all, is what Williams- Mills does. She missed it, and found herself edging back towards the track, returning to full training in March. 

Her first competition was on May 5, when she finished third in Kingston in 51.05secs and smiled as people criticised her relatively poor start to the season.

Williams-Mills knows she will get ‘some heat’ for keeping her illness a secret, but insists she did not want people feeling sorry for her. 

She is bravely speaking out now to stress that early detection is what saved her life. This competitor wants to show that a disease that has no respect for age, fitness or talent can be beaten.

“My friend, a breast cancer survivor, said, ‘So you’ve just run in front of how many millions of people at the Olympics? And this is what you’re afraid of? Just think of your competitors that you hate the most and love to beat.” 

‘For some people, being diagnosed with breast cancer means their world ends. But you’re still that same person. A piece of you is taken away but it doesn’t mean life is over.

“I’m still one of the top 400m runners in the world and I want to see what I can do. Moscow will be for all the breast cancer survivors out there. I want them to know it’s still possible.”

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