Olympian Chaunte Lowe has been through a lot, but you wouldn’t know that from the megawatt smile on her face over Zoom. The 37-year-old recently beat breast cancer. Despite a compromised immune system during that time, she was also able to recover, though with a few lingering symptoms to deal with, from being diagnosed with Covid-19. The Olympic bronze medalist has certainly seen her body do amazing things in high jump competitions, but she is grateful for its strength in a new way after the last couple of years she’s had.
“I feel so blessed,” she tells ESSENCE. “That’s why I could sit here and smile because I know it’s been hard for everyone and to catch [Covid-19] and be so afraid of getting it and then getting it and being okay, I feel really blessed to be here. And so that’s why I smile.”
Before the threat of that virus, Lowe was diagnosed with triple-negative invasive ductal carcinoma in 2019. She had to advocate for herself throughout the process of getting a diagnosis because her family had no history of breast cancer. From persistently requesting to have her lump checked out with a mammogram and ultrasound to seeking a second opinion for peace of mind, a choice that saved her life, she’s been fighting from the very beginning.
“They found a lump, but they told me it was just a lymph node. So I went home. I was told not to come back for six years, however, I didn’t really listen to that advice,” she says. “I know lymph nodes are usually a result of something else and it was not getting smaller, it was getting bigger.”
Within just a year, she went to another doctor and received the same two diagnostic tests. They found that the lump was a tumor that tripled in size. A biopsy was taken afterward and when Lowe went back for her results, she got the life-changing news.
“It was very hard. I actually brought my kids in, brought them to the appointment because I was so confident that it wasn’t going to be cancer,” she says. “It turned out it was, but through that process I found empowerment.”
She was intent on fighting, not only to return to optimal health but also to be an exception to the statistics about Black women having less than favorable outcomes when diagnosed with breast cancer. That determination, common for the track and field star, allowed her to successfully fight to be cancer free and somehow at the same time, train for the Olympics.
“I’ve always been one that’s faced challenges head on,” she says. “Battling breast cancer, through that process, I decided to get a double mastectomy. I went in and got chemotherapy for several months, and from that, I decided to go ahead and train for the Olympics. And this was before Covid and all that. Through the chemotherapy treatments, I was training the whole entire time for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.”
A part of Lowe’s hopefulness to return to the Olympics, then and now, is to be able to use her press access and platform in front of the world to warn and empower other women. She wants to put the importance of early detection front and center, let women know their options, and inspire them. She trained, even while going through a number of draining chemotherapy treatments, so she could get to Tokyo to make that happen.
“It was hard. It was definitely hard. I had the days where I wanted to lay in the bed every single day. I had the days where I was exhausted and I couldn’t move. I was in pain. I had those days,” she says. “I wasn’t immune to those things, but it’s like, if you’ve ever watched the Olympics, you see the relay races and they pass that baton, no matter how tired you are, you run with everything that you have in order to get to the end of the finish line. And that’s how I felt in this process where even though I was tired, I was riding off of the strength of the women that could hear this story.”
She’s no longer working alone to tell her story. Lowe has partnered with beauty brand Olay to empower and impact other women. A third generation Olay products lover, she’s also praising their offerings, specifically the Regenerist Whip with SPF 25 and the Collagen Peptide moisturizer. She says the hydrating products have helped her deal with the skin changes that came with chemotherapy.
“I consider myself dark skin, lot of melanin, very, very blessed with melanin. And I had never burned before,” she says. “I lived in California, I’ve been in Arizona, my skin never burned. And when I was going through chemotherapy, I went outside and within 15 minutes, my skin burned and I didn’t know what to do. So in my quest to find products, I knew that I had to have some type of skin protection.”
She adds, “I was able to use those products together to kind of get me through that chemotherapy process. I fell in love with them. So I keep using them and I’m trying to look like my mom and my grandma [laughs].”
Walgreens also has been a major support, partnering with her. The pharmacy store chain, where you can find those Olay products, made sure she had a way to train for the Games in her backyard because they care as much as she does about getting her back to the Olympics and getting her message out there.
“I just really want to emphasize how much that they supported me,” she says. “Like even in the midst of being questionable because I’m coming out of chemotherapy, they were one of first to get behind me.”
She has had more time to build back up her strength since the Olympics were postponed from last year to this July because of the pandemic. She has also been honest about the fact that training has been difficult due to those lingering Covid symptoms on her recovering system. Nevertheless, Lowe is pushing through with confidence in the same body that beat disease and a deadly virus, that has been to hell and back, believing it will get her through Olympic trials this month and on to the Games next month. It’s a body she has more appreciation for than ever before and that she’s using to be a vessel to save others.
“I have scars, and these scars represent a threat to my life and that I got a second chance,” Lowe says. “I understand now that I’m one small part of a larger hole and I have a part to play. I’m sharing the story and sharing what I’ve learned about coping, about prioritizing my own health and wellness, about putting the oxygen mask on myself first. I’m doing that so that other people can be okay.”