Carla Suárez Navarro will hang up her racquet on her own terms.
The former World No.6 had planned her retirement tour for the 2020 season before the global COVID-19 pandemic shut down the tour in March. But when she resumed practice in Spain in preparation for the tour's resumption last summer, something wasn't right.
"In July, I started tennis again and when I was on the court I felt really bad," Suárez Navarro told WTA Insider. "I felt nauseous all the time when I played tennis. So I thought, OK maybe it's because it's so hot or maybe it's because I was at home for two or three months. I don't understand why. Every day I go on court, every day I have that feeling."
"Then after one week, I said, OK, I have a problem, I don't know what it is, I have to go to the hospital."
After 10 days in the hospital to undergo a litany of tests, the 32-year-old was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Never one to feel sorry for herself, Suárez Navarro immediately began a six-month treatment regimen that included chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
The treatment proved a resounding success. Suárez Navarro announced on social media last week that she is cancer-free and preparing for a return at Roland Garros, where she hopes to begin a farewell tour that will culminate in a final appearance at the US Open this fall.
Suárez Navarro spoke to WTA Insider from Madrid, where she has been practicing on-site at the Mutua Madrid Open, to reflect on her diagnosis and recovery and look ahead to how she hopes to finish her career.
WTA Insider: What have the past few months been like for you to get to the point now where you are cancer-free and preparing to return at Roland Garros?
Suárez Navarro: The first thing is, I'm very happy after all these months.
But the first four months, starting in September was a little bit tough because the doctor told me that I have this lymphoma. But I think my body reacted really good to that news and also to the treatment from the first day. I did chemotherapy for four months, eight sessions. And then radiotherapy, I did like 15 sessions, but the radiotherapy was nothing compared to the chemo.
But the most important thing was that I was so positive. I was with the family behind me. I could do normal life after four or five days after chemo. I went to the gym, I went to swim, I played tennis in December, so I think my body reacted really good. When the doctors made me test with the machine, the results every time were good.
So I think the worst moment was when the doctor told me that I had cancer, but then everything went perfectly until now. I'm really good.
Another step forward. Today I finished my treatment and overcame Hodgkin lymphoma.— Carla Suárez Navarro (@CarlaSuarezNava) April 22, 2021
Thanks to all for your warm messages. Every word of support gave me strength during the past few months. ❤️
All my gratitude to healthcare professionals who take care of us every day. I'M CURED! pic.twitter.com/kF3HwHPh0y
WTA Insider: What was your reaction when the doctor delivered your diagnosis of Hodgkin's Lymphoma?
Suàrez Navarro: Ten days before, when I was checking into the hospital, I had a meeting with the doctor. The doctor told me, Carla, you have three possibilities. One is lymphoma and the other two require surgery or an operation. So for me, it was not a surprise when he said it. But you never want to hear that.
My first reaction was, "OK doctor, what do I have to do to be good again? How is the recovery?" He said you have to do six months of chemo.
WTA Insider: What was the key for you to stay positive throughout your treatment?
Suàrez Navarro: I think I'm a positive person, not a pessimist. The tennis world, everyone talked to me, everyone put things in Twitter and Instagram. That for me was so positive, a lot of strength, a lot of energy.
And then, as I told you before, everything was good every time from the first day. So the first chemo, the doctor before all this they always say you can lose your hair, you can have diarrhea, you can have everything. So after the first chemo, I didn't feel anything that the doctor told me that I can have.
That was very positive because I said, "OK, it's not even like they say." I only lost my hair, but it's OK. I always have short hair, so for me, that was not a big shock. I cut my hair, no problem.
Every time I did my chemo it was not the worst. So I was a lot of the time really, really good. I went to the hospital every Monday, every two weeks. So when I did the chemo on Monday, I had three, four, five days that I stayed at home. But then I had 10 days to do a normal life, to enjoy, because I felt good. I was feeling good. That's why I was good.
WTA Insider: Was it any trickier having to go through all this during a global pandemic?
Suárez Navarro: Yeah, a little bit, because at the end of 2019 I said that I want to retire in 2020. So for me it was difficult, that part, because I was thinking, "OK, now if I retire, I cannot do it on a tennis court."
I had to take care a little bit more because of coronavirus because my defense was low, lower than normal. But I was feeling really good! I wanted to go out. I wanted to travel, I wanted to go with my friends. But I can't!
I was like, Oh my God, I'm with cancer but I feel good, I want to go out and I can't. It was like, Oh Carla. Relax. You want to do these things but it's not the moment. So it was difficult because of coronavirus. If that happened to me three years ago, I would be traveling these 10 days to everywhere. For sure I would enjoy much more.
WTA Insider: Given that you thought you were going to retire last season, then were diagnosed with cancer and are now cancer-free, what is your mindset as you prepare to return to the tour?
Suàrez Navarro: I told you before that I don't want to be remembered that I have to retire because I have cancer. Now I'm cancer-free.
I have the illusion to play one last time a French Open. I'm trying to practice and I'm trying to be good, to be ready to be there. But if I cannot be there, for me it's not going to be a big problem because I know that I have to practice. I don't want to be there in any case. I want to be there if I'm really ready to compete with these amazing players.
But in my mind, it's Roland Garros, Wimbledon, Olympics, if I can qualify, and then US Open. The big tournaments for one last time because I could not play last year. This is my big illusion.
Many thanks for the messages! Miss you all! 😘😘 https://t.co/beEDRTtfpp— Carla Suárez Navarro (@CarlaSuarezNava) October 11, 2020
WTA Insider: When you announced your diagnosis there was such an overwhelming outpouring from the tennis community. Did that surprise you at all?
Suárez Navarro: I was so surprised, because I know that I am a "famous" player and I could imagine that everyone could be shocked, but not that dimension. I mean, I never can imagine a lot of messages. That was the most surprising for me.
I know I'm a long time on tour, but players compete for everything. So sometimes it's not easy. I was surprised because everyone talked to me or wanted to send a message. That was really nice for me.
WTA Insider: How different is the Carla of today compared to the Carla of 12 months ago?
Suárez Navarro: I'm not changing a lot. I think what I changed is I'm enjoying more the everyday, the moment that I'm living. This is where I changed in my mind. Last year, I was planning, OK, I'm going here and going here, I want to do that. And now? I enjoy more the moment. If I get angry it's because of a big, big, big problem, but nothing else.
I was a relaxed person, I think, before. I also enjoyed it. But now I want to enjoy more because you never know what is possible that's happening to you tomorrow. I think it is the only thing I changed.
WTA Insider: What is your hope for what could be your final season on tour?
Suárez Navarro: Well, when I was on tour all these years, I was really happy and I think I really enjoyed every moment, every tournament. Nothing changed for the rest of 2021. I will be so happy if I can be in these big tournaments. I know that I will enjoy a lot.
Here in Madrid, I will be a little bit nervous because I know that everyone is coming to me for sure. But after that, it will be different.
Enjoy every day. Enjoy the moments on court. And try to enjoy these last months in the tennis tour with the tennis family like I think I did all these years.
Welcome to the new era of the @WTA. I play for the game and something much bigger than myself. I play for the fight.— Carla Suárez Navarro (@CarlaSuarezNava) December 2, 2020
Bienvenidos a una nueva era de la @WTA. Juego por el deporte y por algo más grande que yo misma. Juego por la lucha.#WTAForTheGame pic.twitter.com/TXbFOrH2ni