As an International Tennis Hall-of-Famer and 18-time Grand Slam champion, Chris Evert has met numerous obstacles on the court. But in December 2021, she faced one of her biggest life challenges when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, the same type of cancer that had taken her sister’s life in 2020.
Two years after her sister, Jeanne, passed away, Chris was referred for genetic testing by her sister’s oncologist. Chris was aware Jeanne’s blood had been stored in a lab in case data related to new variants became available. She never expected the BRCA1 variant her sister had would one day be reclassified as “clearly pathogenic” or cancerous.
Chris went through genetic testing at Cleveland Clinic Weston Hospital. (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)
“It was unbelievable to me that they kept track, even when my sister had passed away, of the gene mutation she had,” Chris says.
Upon being referred to Sara Rhode, a genetic counselor at Cleveland Clinic Weston Hospital, Chris learned she was positive for the pathogenic variant in the BRCA1 gene associated with hereditary cancer. She was now at higher risk for both ovarian and breast cancers.
Chris’ team included Weston Hospital hematologist oncologist David Grossman, MD, and gynecologic oncologist Joel Cardenas, MD. Dr. Cardenas recommended Chris have a total hysterectomy and removal of both her fallopian tubes and ovaries.
Chris with her gynecologic oncologist Dr. Cardenas. (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)
Chris applauded the ease of the robotic assisted surgery performed by Dr. Cardenas. “The care I received was excellent,” she says.
When the pathology report came back, Chris was shocked to learn she had Stage 1 ovarian cancer. Her treatment included another robotic surgery 10 days later and six rounds of chemotherapy.
Today, the tennis legend is on a crusade to build awareness about the benefits of cancer prevention and early detection.
Chris says her care team made her feel like part of their family while she was going through her cancer journey. (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)
“I encourage people to know their family history and get genetic testing,” she says. “Be your own advocate, and be aware of your body and any signs or signals of something changing.”
Chris also offers advice to those who are facing a potential cancer diagnosis.
“I think it’s very important when you choose your hospital that your caregivers, doctors and nurses are very positive, caring and give you their time,” she says. “Cleveland Clinic Weston Hospital made me feel welcome when I walked through the doors, and I felt like I was a part of the family, cared for and nurtured. Boy, that really means a lot when you’re going through cancer.”
Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center