austrian city

Despite Loss, Cancer Survivor Sandra Klemenschits Wins In Grand Slam Debut

It wasn’t the result she was hoping for, but for Austrian doubles specialist Sandra Klemenschits, wins and losses don’t have the same impact anymore.

Playing with Aravane Rezai of France, the pair lost 6-1, 6-2 in the first round to the No. 5 seeds in the women’s doubles draw, Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia and Ai Sugiyama of Japan.

“After my illness, I’m just happy to be alive,” said Klemenschits. “We did the best we could against a team that are not just great players, but great people as well.”

Klemenschits used to be a top doubles pairing with her twin sister, Daniela. The pair won 20 doubles titles on the ITF circuit and reached the finals of a WTA event in Istanbul in 2006.

That all radically changed in January of 2007 when both players were diagnosed with a rare form of abdominal cancer, squamous cell carcimona. The chances of survival from the cancer are slim at best.

“It was a complete surprise,” said Klemenschits. “We’re both very healthy people and then all of a sudden, we’re being told that we both are dying.”

The sisters immediately underwent a series of expensive medical treatments in Germany. Lacking insurance, the costs of the treatment threatened to wipe them out financially.

The WTA Tour and its players responded with great generosity, putting together an online auction that raised over $70,000 for their medical treatments. Players including Martina Hingis, Maria Sharapova, and Justine Henin donated items for the auction. Later that fall, when Sugiyama won the doubles title at the WTA event in the Austrian city of Linz, she donated her winnings to their medical expenses.

“It was really special for me to be able to do that,” said Sugiyama. “This is about so much more than results or winning and losing. I’m so happy to see her back on the tour and doing so well. There were a lot of extra emotions running for me in our match today.”

“Sugiyama is one of the most amazing people that I know, but the support of all the other players was so moving as well,” said Klemenschits. “You can’t believe that people are thinking of you like this and doing these things for you.”

Although doctors told both sisters that their prognosis was promising, Daniela ultimately died from her cancer in April of 2008. She died at the same time Sandra was told that her cancer was in remission. Feeling that she needed a distraction, Sandra picked up a racket as soon as she was given the green light by her doctors.

“The first practices was so hard because the cancer wiped away all the power from my body,” said Klemenschits. “But I knew that I needed to do something.”

Three months after the death of her sister, Klemenschits returned to the WTA Tour in July of 2008 at an event in Bad Gastein, Austria. Shockingly, the titles soon began to pile up and Klemenschits returned better than before. Since returning to the tour, Klemenschits has won 8 doubles titles on the ITF circuit, five of them in 2009.

Klemenschits said that she still needs to be checked by her doctors in Austria every two months, but her cancer is still in remission and all signs are promising at the moment.

“Obviously, my perspective has changed after all of this,” said Klemenschits. “You start to think differently because you realize that life is so short. The most important thing for me right now is health, and to just enjoy everything that I’m doing. In the end, the winning and losing doesn’t matter as long as you have your health.”

Klemenschits will return to the ITF circuit in the fall for a series of events in Europe. She said that she hopes to serve as a motivation for people with the same illness as she had.

“The one thing that I would tell people is to be positive mentally and you can beat the cancer,” said Klemenschits. “If you aren’t thinking positive, then you have no chance. You never know what’s going to happen next, so it’s just important to enjoy every minute.”