Novlene William-Mills

Novlene Williams-Mills during the World Championships in Osaka. (Photo: Erik van Leeuwen/Wikimedia Commons)

Few people can say they won an Olympic medal; fewer still can say they did it while dealing with cancer – which is what Novlene Williams-Mills did when she took home an Olympic medal from London 2012 for the 4×400-meter relay.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, Jamaica’s top 400-meter runner reveals she was told of her cancer on June 25, 2012, six days before the Jamaican trials. She went on to finish in fifth place in the Olympic 400-meter final and won her third straight bronze medal in the 4×400-meter relay.

“Was it crazy? Yes,” she told the Daily Mail. “That’s everybody’s dream, to run at the Olympics. But I was thinking about my hurdles that I have to come back to fight. I was thinking: ‘Am I going to survive this?’"

Only her husband and a few close friends aware of the diagnosis; Williams-Mills kept the news away from her teammates. Just days after the Games, doctors removed a small lump in her breast. She then opted for a double mastectomy, comparing her ordeal to that of actress Angelina Jolie, who also underwent a preventive double mastectomy. She says that it reduced her future risk of cancer from 99 percent to around 3 percent.

Williams-Mills returned to the track four months after her final operation in January. She won her seventh Jamaican 400-meter title on June 23, securing her spot at the world championships in Moscow for August; her season record of 50.01 makes her the fifth swiftest female runner this year.

“I’m still one of the top 400-meter runners in the world and I want to see what I can do,” she told the Daily Mail. “Moscow will be for all the breast cancer survivors out there. I want them to know it’s still possible.”

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Runner Novlene Williams-Mills won bronze at Olympics with breast cancer
The Jamaican runner kept her diagnosis a secret during the London 2012 Games; not even her teammates knew.