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How Orlando Pride defender Toni Pressley is using her battle with breast cancer to empower women

Pressley, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, wants to empower women to take care of their bodies.

SOCCER: OCT 12 NWSL - Reign FC at Orlando Pride
Orlando Pride defender Toni Pressley was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019.
Photo by Joe Petro/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Orlando Pride defender Toni Pressley has a message for women: it can happen to you, too.

Despite experiencing soreness in one of her breasts for months, Pressley didn’t get screened for breast cancer. She was a professional athlete, after all. She didn’t feel particularly at risk.

Then the Pride’s nutritionist, Rikki Keen, decided to address the team. She was diagnosed with an early form of breast cancer in 2018, and wanted to share her story. It prompted Pressley to finally get checked out.

Last summer, Pressley was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a wakeup call. She wants to ensure other women don’t put themselves in the same predicament.

“I think it is important for me for people to know that nobody is immune to everything, and it can happen to anyone,” Pressley said. “It can happen to athletes, young people, healthy people. That’s the message I want to get across.”

In celebration of Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October, Pressley is partnering with the women’s brand Chestee to create her own sports bra. Twenty percent of proceeds will be donated to Libby’s Legacy, a non-profit that provides breast cancer services to underserved women in Central Florida.

Pressley’s diagnosis sidelined her for several months last season, and this season, the Pride withdrew from the NWSL Challenge Cup, due to positive Covid-19 tests among players and staff.

While Pressley waits to get back on the field, she’s used her platform to spread awareness. It’s more important than ever to promote vigilance, given how thousands of women have put off getting mammograms amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

Studies show the postponements will likely increase the number of cancer deaths.

“I always wanted to be honest about what was happening, what I was going through, especially also knowing that it can help someone else, or many others as well,” she said. “From a health perspective, recognize your body, because nobody knows it better than you do, and trust your gut and intuition, and go to the doctor early and often.”

As LGBTQ people in sports, we know the power of visibility. Pressley, who’s dating her Pride teammate, the Brazilian soccer great Marta Vieira da Silva, says the same advice about trusting yourself applies to living an out and open life.

“It’s about expressing to yourself, and to other people, that you have community and support behind you, and to live and lean into your fullest truth,” Pressley said. “I think for us as humans, that’s so huge: to find ourselves, love ourselves and be comfortable and to know there’s a community out there for everyone. There’s love out there for everyone.”