Three months after announcing that she had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, Carla Suarez (Las Palmas de Gran Canarias, 32 years old) answers the other end of the phone. The tennis player says she is strong and animated in a difficult period, in which she combines the fight against the disease with these times of pandemic. “I’m doing quite well, because as in Barcelona you can’t do too much …”, the former world number six starts in the preamble of an optimistic conversation that ends pointing to a possible return to the slopes to say goodbye to her sport as I’d imagined it before life took a turn: rallying.
Question. How are you?
Answer. I am quite well, in the middle of chemotherapy treatment. When I have the sessions I have a stomach ache and nausea for a couple of days, but everything is being very bearable and in that sense I am very happy, because as they paint you with the side effects … They tell you that they can be quite a lot more annoying and uncomfortable, so as far as possible, I’m not taking it badly.
Being a tennis player helps. Even if they cover you, the one who deals with the disease is you alone
P. The swerve has been radical. How is your day to day now?
R. The truth is that it has upset me a lot, because I had the idea of retiring this year and in November or December be free, so to speak, and now I have all five senses in recovering and trying to move forward with this situation. My day to day is calm. The weeks that I have a session, I am practically three or four days at home, without going out, and when I have the opportunity I take a walk, go to the gym or try to do a sport. I can lead a normal life, although with all this that we are going through they have recommended that I not lose heart.
P. How does sport help you?
R. They recommend it a bit to you, the truth, and it is coming in very well for me. I remember that when I started the treatment, before the first session I had not done many things and after, when I started, I noticed it a lot in the second. Within this situation, I try to stay in shape. It is good to move and not be so static.
P. Faced with such a situation, could being an elite athlete and having that mentality be beneficial?
R. Sport has taught me a series of things that I am now trying to apply: being positive, having that spirit of sacrifice or fighting against adversity. I think that all this is helping me a lot, and also the fact that I have suffered for so long in a sport like tennis, which is very demanding. Whether you like it or not, it is individual and in a disease like this, even if you have many people around you who encourage you and support you, the one who has to get ahead and deal with the pain is you alone.
P. Do you think a lot about it?
R. At no time have I felt fear. Obviously, you never want to hear news like this, but when the doctor told me the first thing I thought was that all this was very upsetting my plans. As soon as it was transmitted to me, I changed the chip and the only thing I had in mind was to recover, and fortunately the doctors have given me a lot of hope. I am approaching it from a positive perspective, knowing that it is curable, and that is the way to go. In addition, many people have contacted me to tell me about their experiences and explain how they came out of it.
P. To what extent does this make you rethink your life?
R. Not much, really. One of the decisions I decide to stop playing is because I want to spend more time with my family and loved ones; because of my career I have not been able to, and now I want to enjoy more from day to day. It was quite clear to me, I know very well where I want to go, and this disease has not changed anything. Absolutely. Also, as I announced back in the day, I would like to be a mother. Now more than ever, I try to enjoy what the day to day offers me.
I want to say goodbye to my sport on a track. The Tokyo Games are light at the end of the tunnel
P. Looking back, Is there something to reproach yourself for?
R. Tennis has always given me perspective and I think I’ve always had my feet on the ground. I know the reality of the world and I feel very lucky. Besides, that trip I made in 2019 to Uganda [con las ONG Ciudades de Viento y Tennis for All] It opened my eyes, so I am very aware of who I am and where I am. We know that this reality is there, but it is very far away, and when you go there and try to help by contributing your grain of sand, even a little. It opens your eyes more. I would have liked to do it a long time ago, but had not given the moment. Hopefully I can repeat the experience.
P. Are you taking inspiration from someone or leaning on something that can help you through this process?
R. Many people have contacted me, many people whom I did not know at all. And in the world of tennis there was a case a long time ago, that of Rubén Merchán. The doctor [Ángel] Ruiz Cotorro acted as an intermediary, because he wanted him to tell me what he could find me and how he had passed it. We got into the routine of going to eat every two days, here in Barcelona, and we have been unlucky that all the restaurants have closed for us… But now we are going to resume the routine. He’s the one who has helped me the most, because he knows better than anyone what I’m going through. At the first meal he told me about the process and now we just meet to chat and disconnect.
P. Somehow, has it been rediscovered or seen doing things that it didn’t used to do before?
R. Not really. Already in confinement I did not do different things, and now neither. I try to do what I like, as always. In that sense I have been a little restless.
P. And how much tennis have you seen?
R. Much. The US Open coincided with me when I was admitted to the hospital, so I watched a lot of games and was very grateful for the detail that Garbiñe had [Muguruza, buena amiga y que le dedicó su triunfo en la primera ronda]. There has always been respect and appreciation between us. I was also able to see Roland Garros and the London Masters later. From the barrier you enjoy much more than on the track …
P. You are very familiar. And how is your inner circle managing it?
R. I think they are doing just as well as I am. My mother [Loli] She is with me, in Barcelona, and I look very good, so she is fine too; when maybe he doesn’t see me so well, it’s when he goes down a little and is more chof… To my father [José Luis] I have not been able to see it because I came from Las Palmas on May 29, and the situation is what it is. We talk almost daily and he is getting along well too, like my brother [José]. Everything is going so expensively … It is specific days that I am not so well, so we are all strong.
In a few months this will be a bad memory. With a good face you get out of everything
P. Of all those people who have contacted you, has anything caught your attention?
R. I have received many calls, from people you never even expect, but there are two players who have been very important in our sport who have contacted me almost every week, to be interested and ask me how I am doing. In the end, having those human values impacts you. We have been rivals and, in the end, in tournaments you live everything with more distance, so I was very surprised.
P. He has slipped that, if they are finally held, he would like to say goodbye at the Games. Is Tokyo 2021 an extra stimulus?
R. I have set it as a goal to stay alert, to be positive, to have something there. I want to say goodbye to tennis on a court. It’s a dream, right? But the reality is that I go day by day, week by week. I’m trying to recover and then it will be seen. I have a ranking protected and I will not be able to play before, so those who will qualify or not will be my companions, depending on the results they make. It is something that is there, a way that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
P. And what would you like to convey to those who are going through a situation similar to yours?
R. From here I want to convey a message of encouragement. It is important to be positive and encouraged, because in a few months all this will remain as a bad memory. You have to fight, always. You get out of this, there is healing and life is very long. Let them not be disappointed or saddened. It will be a tough process, but with a good face you get out of everything.
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