Deb Price | Martina, Always a Winner

This past Sunday, the kick-off day to the 2010 French Open, tennis legend Martina Navratilova was calling the shots on the Tennis Channel, spinning in a bit of philosophy with her hallmark no-frills, straight-to-the-point analysis.

“Confidence is so elusive,” Navratilova told TV viewers like myself aghast at the wobbly start of Svetlana Kuznetsova, last year’s French Open winner.

“It’s hard to gain and easy to lose. But then sometimes just a match, or a point, or a game turns it around. Where you had big, big doubts, and somehow you get through it. All of a sudden, you have confidence again.”

It was as if Kuznetsova had heard Martina whispering in her ear: The Russian turned her game around and went on to trounce her opponent in straight sets, 6-3, 6-1. Not bad for someone who’d been down “Love” — tennis-speak for zero — to 3 games.

Martina overflows with confidence.

Leaving a gala dinner last fall in Washington, I happened to spot Martina: She bypassed the steps in favor of sliding down the banister. I wanted to shout: “Hey, don’t do that. Don’t you realize you could break a leg?”

But Martina doesn’t duck a challenge.

Listening to her French Open commentary, I couldn’t help remembering that the last time I’d heard her distinctive voice was in early April, when she told the world she had a new opponent — breast cancer.

The diagnosis was no doubt as hard for the rest of us to believe as for the winner of 18 Grand Slam singles titles.

At 53, she exudes athleticism, vitality. After retiring from professional tennis, Martina reinvented herself as a commentator on Tennis Channel and as AARP’s health and fitness ambassador.

And, in a Martina-esque display of confidence, she’s doing her commentary while receiving radiation treatment and practicing for a seniors doubles match.

On “Larry King Live” in April, Martina explained that her non-invasive breast cancer was detected in a mammogram at the beginning of the year. Like a lot of busy women, she’d let a mammogram slide for several years, with the thought, “Oh, I’ll get it later.”

When she understood that she’d lucked out because the mammogram detected the cancer early and she could quickly have a lumpectomy, she decided to go public, she told King.

“I thought, you know what, I really owe this to the women out there that are putting it off, to speak out, and say: ‘You know what? Get that mammogram every year. Because you never know when it’s going to save your life'”

I’m sure I’m not the only busy woman who watched Martina on “Larry King Live” and earnestly promised herself to get that overdue mammogram — but hasn’t yet.

The National Cancer Institute urges women in their 40s and older to get a mammogram every one to two years. If cancer is detected early, the chances for successful treatment go up dramatically.

That’s a message that especially needs to be heard by lesbians, who, as a group, may be at higher risk because we are less likely to have given birth, more likely to be overweight and less likely to see doctors regularly.

Busy, busy, busy. Aren’t we all? But this tennis junkie vows not to watch one more game of the French Open until I’ve taken Martina’s advice and made that mammogram appointment, both for myself and my very busy spouse, Joyce.

If you are a busy woman over 40, let Martina whisper in your ear: Make that mammogram appointment, both for myself and my very busy spouse, Joyce.

Deb Price of The Detroit News writes the first nationally syndicated column on gay issues.

Copyright 2010