Four-Time Olympian Overcomes Cancer and COVID-19

By Sara Bondell - July 27, 2021

The Olympic Games are a showdown of the best of the best in the world. That means competing against the fittest, most determined and, in most cases, youngest talent there is.

At her age, 36-year-old track and field athlete Chaunte Lowe was already battling the test of time to make it to her fifth Olympics in Tokyo. The high jumper had an Olympic medal, set American records and was a World Champion, but in 2019 the mother of three learned she would have to overcome her biggest hurdle yet: cancer. 

In the summer of 2018, Lowe felt a lump in her breast. A doctor ordered a mammogram but wrote it off as an inflamed lymph node since Lowe was too young and fit for breast cancer. When the lump was still there months later, Lowe sought a second opinion. This time, a mammogram detected a mass, which had grown significantly, and Lowe was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer.

Dr. Dana Ataya, subspecialized breast radiologist
Dr. Dana Ataya, subspecialized breast radiologist

“It is so important that women be advocates for their health,” said Dr. Dana Ataya, a subspecialized breast radiologist at Moffitt Cancer Center. “If a concerning change is detected on self-breast exam—like a new or enlarging breast lump—inform your doctor immediately. Dedicated breast imaging, like a mammogram and ultrasound, are often performed.”

Ataya also says pervasive stereotypes, such as being “too fit” or “too young” for cancer can result in delayed diagnoses. “Although most women diagnosed with breast cancer are over the age of 40, younger women can and do get diagnosed with breast cancer. Men can also rarely be diagnosed with breast cancer. That’s why it is critical for all patients—irrespective of age and gender—to get promptly evaluated if a breast lump or other breast symptom is identified.”

Even with her delayed diagnosis, Lowe focused on fighting cancer.

“My first thought was, ‘I am going to leave my kids without a mother,’” Lowe recalled about her diagnosis. “My second thought was, ‘There’s no way I’m leaving my kids without a mother.’”

Lowe had a double mastectomy followed by chemotherapy, but she vowed to continue working out the best she could during her treatment. In February 2020, she was deemed cancer free.

But while training for the now delayed 2020 Olympic Games, Lowe hit another roadblock: her entire family was diagnosed with COVID-19.

“I never thought a year and a half later, I would be doing it all again,” said Lowe.

Just like she did with cancer, Lowe beat COVID-19. However, it took a toll on her training, and days before the Olympic trials, she announced she would not be competing.

Although she will be cheering on the United States from home, Lowe already has her sights set on competing in the World Championship next year.

Triple-negative breast cancer accounts for about 10% to 15% of all breast cancer diagnoses. It tends to be more aggressive than other types of breast cancer and leads to poorer outcomes for patients. A new study found that Black women have a significantly higher risk of death from nonmetastatic triple-negative breast cancer than white women.

The American College of Radiology, Society of Breast Imaging and the American Society of Breast Surgeons all recommend yearly mammography beginning at age 40 for women at average risk of developing breast cancer. Women can also advocate for themselves by requesting a personal breast cancer risk assessment by age 30 to help identify if they are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer and would benefit from earlier screening with both mammography and breast MRI.

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