Fighting Strategies

All-time tennis great opens up on her "personal 9/11" in a touching Houston lunch

All-time tennis great opens up on her "personal 9/11" in Houston lunch

Rosanne Rogers, from left, Martina Navratilova and Cheri Fama at the Nancy Owens luncheon October 2013
Roseann Rogers, from left, Martina Navratilova, Cheri Fama Photo courtesy of TK Images Photography
Dr. Melissa Landis, from left, Dr. Alessandro Grattoni, Dr. Xiaosong Wang, Dr. Anthony Lucci, Dr. Kent Osborne and Amy Bernstein at the Nancy Owens luncheon October 2013
Dr. Melissa Landis, from left, Dr. Alessandro Grattoni, Dr. Xiaosong Wang, Dr. Anthony Lucci, Dr. Kent Osborne and Amy Bernstein. Photo courtesy of TK Images Photography
Rick Young, from left, Terri Guerra and Mike Huff at the Nancy Owens luncheon October 2013
Rick Young, from left, Terri Guerra and Mike Huff. Photo courtesy of TK Images Photography
Jennifer Hernandez at the Nancy Owens luncheon October 2013
Jennifer Hernandez Photo courtesy of TK Images Photography
Rosanne Rogers, from left, Martina Navratilova and Cheri Fama at the Nancy Owens luncheon October 2013
Dr. Melissa Landis, from left, Dr. Alessandro Grattoni, Dr. Xiaosong Wang, Dr. Anthony Lucci, Dr. Kent Osborne and Amy Bernstein at the Nancy Owens luncheon October 2013
Rick Young, from left, Terri Guerra and Mike Huff at the Nancy Owens luncheon October 2013
Jennifer Hernandez at the Nancy Owens luncheon October 2013

Tennis great Martina Navratilova says she's had a lot of highs and lows in her remarkable life, but she hit rock bottom when she was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago. "It was my personal 9/11. My life will never be the same again. It just switched," she told an audience of nearly 1,000 that packed the Westin Galleria ballroom at the 12th Annual Nancy Owens Memorial Foundation Luncheon.

Believing herself to be in great health, the nine-time Wimbledon champion had put off having a mammogram for four years. "When you get a notice in the mail that your pet needs to get a rabies shots, you make that appointment right away. But when the mammogram notice comes, you put it off," she said, urging women to take care of themselves first.

  "When you get a notice in the mail that your pet needs to get a rabies shots, you make that appointment right away. But when the mammogram notice comes, you put it off."  

Navratilova underwent a lumpectomy and radiation for the stage 3 cancer and today is in excellent health, with some valuable lessons learned from the experience. "What is important is how we react to what happens, how we use those resources to be good at our worst," she said.

Speaking without notes, Navratilova detailed five strategies that have worked for her, whether it's fighting cancer or aiming to win a U.S. Open title (mixed doubles) one month short of her 50th birthday (which she did in 2006):

1. Surround yourself with positive people. "If you have five friends helping you get through this, studies show you have a much better chance for recovery," she said.

2. Stop labeling experiences as negative. "Whether it's a flat tire or a missed tennis shot, we need to stop looking upon things like this as good or bad. I treat them as challenges. Without those challenges, we don't have opportunities to grow. That's how we improve," she said. "You have to treat life as a game. If you're not challenged, it's not that much fun."

3. Try to keep your priorities straight. Align your priorities with your goals. Sit down, think about exactly what it is you want and divide your goals into manageable pieces.

4. Live your values. Don't let others set your limitations. "For me (in tennis) it was coming to the net. If I had stayed at the baseline, you would have probably never heard of me. People who succeed take chances. They don't listen to negative comments along the way."

5. Turn your focus outward. "I think it's the opposite of what they're teaching today to go inside and find yourself. We're so busy looking inward we don't recognize when others need help. You can really help find yourself by looking outside yourself."

Navratilova also spoke movingly about her decision to defect from her native Czechoslovakia and become a U.S. citizen, her decision to come out as a lesbian, her role models (Australian tennis great Rod Laver is tops) and her longtime friendship with onetime rival Chris Evert.

Among those in the crowd were Channel 13 anchor Ilona Carson, who emceed the luncheon, Amy BernsteinMike Huff, Jennifer Hernandez, Martha Turner, Roseann Rogers, Cheri Fama, Beth Wolff, Bob Hale, Mark Cady, Robin Mueck, Maxine Myers, Mariella Massa, Ken Jacobson, Mike Brubaker, Jim Lemming, Hannah Storen and Raghda Henthorne, who received the Spirit of Courage Award.

Proceeds from the luncheon, which raised $100,000, benefit the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and the Department of Nanomedicine, Houston Methodist Research Institute

The luncheon honored Nancy Owen, a beloved Houston real estate agent who lost her 20-year battle with breast cancer in 2001. Luncheon underwriters in the real estate community included Prudential Anderson Properties, John Daugherty Realtors, Bernstein Realty, Martha Turner Properties, Greenwood King, Heritage Texas Properties and Keller Williams, along with The Houston Association of Realtors.