Ottawa

'Devastating' cancer diagnosis leaves Canadian ref on World Cup sidelines

An Ottawa soccer referee was ready for the 2019 Women's World Cup until she received a sudden breast cancer diagnosis.

Carol Anne Chenard of Ottawa diagnosed with breast cancer 2 days before leaving for World Cup

Ottawa's Carol Anne Chenard learned she had breast cancer just two days before taking off for the 2019 Women's World Cup in France. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

For Ottawa's Carol Anne Chenard, there is no high like standing on a soccer pitch refereeing at the Women's World Cup.

She did it in 2011, then again in 2015, and 2019 was supposed to bring another experience of a lifetime.

Then, two days before her flight to France, Chenard's life changed in an instant when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

The 42-year-old said she noticed a lump on her chest earlier this spring. It took a few appointments before her doctor delivered the cancer diagnosis. 

"It was a bit of a shock," Chenard told Radio-Canada's Mathieu Nadon.

She was diagnosed early and received her first treatment on June 7 with "minimal side effects," and said she has a good chance to beat the cancer.

Carol Anne Chenard learned she had cancer just two days before leaving for the Women's World Cup. 1:29

Decorated Canadian referee

Chenard is one of Canada's best and most experienced soccer referees.

She made her Women's World Cup debut in 2011 when the event was hosted in Germany before officiating in the 2015 tournament in Canada. Chenard then earned the chance to referee the 2016 Olympic women's soccer final in Brazil.

Most recently, she led the first all-women crew of on-field officials for the new Canadian Premier League.

Those credentials led FIFA to name her one of 26 referees for the 2019 Women's World Cup, and one of only two Canadians.

Earlier this month, Chenard had to pull out of the competition and FIFA announced she would not be replaced.

Anxiety of the unknowns

Her focus had been on France and another life highlight. But after the diagnosis, she had to pivot her mindset instead of her feet.

"I was a referee who was fit and ready to perform at the highest level at the World Cup [when I was diagnosed]," she said.

"It's obviously devastating. It was really, really difficult for me when I had to turn back the World Cup appointment."

But the pain of missing out on the World Cup was accompanied, and soon overshadowed, by anxiety about the unknowns that come with a cancer diagnosis.

Canada won its opening match 1-0 over Cameroon at the 2019 Women's World Cup. (Pascal Guyot/AFP/Getty Images)

That anxiety has subsided somewhat as Chenard comes to terms with the diagnosis. She wanted to share her story to blow a whistle at women who aren't proactive about checking in on their health.

"Anybody can receive a diagnosis like this. I think it's important — as we're in the biggest ... event for women in the world — statistics say there are going to be more of us diagnosed with cancer," she said.

"I want people to take charge. I want people to take care of their health. I want them to do self-exams so that they can get diagnosed early like I did and can get back healthy."

Chenard said she is watching the World Cup closely and cheering on her fellow referees. The event runs until July 7.

Canada plays its next match on Thursday against the Netherlands.

With files from The Associated Press