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'Never give up' - Williams-Mills offers advice to cancer warriors

Published:Thursday | October 5, 2017 | 12:00 AMDania Bogle

The cancer journey is a very personal one and one that many survivors don't share. Jamaican 400m runner Novlene Williams-Mills has decided that she wants to share her story in the hope that she may help other women out there who have struggled with breast cancer.

Williams-Mills found out her diagnosis just before the 2012 Olympics, and immediately after competing in London, she underwent surgery and treatment for the disease.

The road back to health had its ups and downs for Williams-Mills, who recalled a particularly difficult 2013, in which her performances on the track were heavily criticised by track and field fans, who didn't quite understand why her season was so rough.

"I had a great season in 2012. I was running really good, and in 2013, starting back my season, I think a lot of people didn't know what I had gone through. I was trying to find my way back with four days' training. It was one of the hardest things to deal with - how I was competing not knowing what was really going on."




Williams-Mills told The Gleaner that she did not talk about her struggles until her family encouraged her to do so as a way to reach out to others.

"I'm a private person. [They said] a lot of people have gone through what you have and don't have a platform like you. For you to tell people, that can help encourage someone that's been through it," she added.

"I was nervous talking about it because I didn't know what was going to be the response from the general public. Over the years, I think I have helped and inspired people to say don't give in. The challenges may be hard, but you will get through this. Don't give up. You will be okay."

As an athlete, a strong and healthy body is important, and Williams-Mills said there were days when her body just wouldn't do what she wanted it to do.




"It was tough for me mentally and physically because I had to change training a lot because I was still trying to get used to my body. Being through many surgeries, there were days I was tired, when practice was just too much, when I was going from five days to even four days' training, and some days it was just too much for me," she said.

After a rough 2013 Williams-Mills won the 400m Diamond race in 2014, and in 2015, she won her first World Championship gold after anchoring Jamaica's 4x400m team in Beijing.

She pointed out that getting through cancer requires a strong support system, which she fortunately found in her husband.

Williams-Mills, who had plans to retire after this season, said she is resting, as October is an important month for her family, with her wedding anniversary on the 14th and her husband's birthday on the 18th, but she said she's learnt a lot about herself having gone through such an experience.

"Mentally, I am stronger than I thought I was before," she said.

While she may consider running again, once she is retired for good, Williams-Mills said that she wants to work with other cancer survivors.

"I want to be part of a cancer foundation because over the years, coming to Jamaica to some of these cancer functions, a lot of people need somebody to talk to that they don't have; somebody to hear. I want to be that person. I can be a listening ear for them. Each person's journey is different, and maybe that person can be struggling so much and needs somebody to listen to them. That's something I want to spend my time doing," she told The Gleaner.




1) Do breast self-exams at home. You know your body better than anyone else. Doctors are human and can overlook something. If you feel something is not right, don't be afraid to find out what is going on.

2) Life is going to change, but don't give up hope, no matter how hard life gets. Surround yourself with positive people.

3) Give yourself every fighting chance. Some days you will feel like you can't get out of bed, but just don't give up.