Four Reasons Breast Cancer is Like Golf

Whether you follow golf or not, you’re probably aware that the final round of the Masters took place today.  We couldn’t avoid it if we wanted to, with the media focus on whether Tiger’s fans would forgive his transgressions, would his wife show up, blah blah blah. My frame of reference is a bit different. As I watched on and off between pruning roses and other spring yard cleanup, I was struck by the similarities to breast cancer.

For the record, I’m not a golfer. Motor skills are not my strong suit. But I did try it for a season and even took lessons. It was quite a stretch for me to go from a best ball situation to having to hit my own ball all the way through. I think I made par once. I also nearly beaned a groundskeeper in Phoenix. But I digress. Here’s what I think breast cancer has in common with golf:

Reason No. 1: Obstacles are part of the deal. Mark Twain called golf “a good walk spoiled” and if you look at it that way, it is. Trees and sand traps and water are just waiting to claim your ball. And yet golf courses are some of the most beautiful places on earth. With cancer, your bunkers and water hazards are biopsies and blood draws, surgery and radiation and chemo. But you’ve also got love, humor and loyalty in the face of these obstacles—the things that lend beauty to the adventure.

Reason No. 2: Both are humbling experiences. It doesn’t matter if you’re Tiger Woods or that guy in the cubicle next to yours who dreams of making par. Sometimes your shot will end up in the trees, or the gallery, or the bunker. It’s a leveling experience. So is cancer. Educated or ignorant, health conscious or not; the cancer gods don’t care. We’re all pretty much the same in a hospital gown. But there’s a good side here as well. It can be quite humbling to realize how much people care, as it must be for golfers when they hear the gallery applaud and realize it’s for them.

Reason No. 3: You have to deal with internal noise. As with any sport, golfers have to contend with “choking”—when they’re favored to win but can’t handle the pressure. Golfers can also be prone to the “yips”—when you aren’t steady enough to make a putt. For those of us in the pink ribbon tribe, our version of choking is more like freezing. What was that the doctor just said? How am I supposed to decide what kind of treatment and risk I’m willing to accept? We all need to find a way to quiet that noise in our heads.

Reason No. 4: It’s not your score on the board but your conduct on the green. Sure, you can throw your clubs or curse at the caddie, but what does that really get you? It’s the same in Cancer World. You can throw a tantrum at the surgeon’s receptionist but what good have you done? Does that mean you should never get angry? Of course it doesn’t. No one has the right to tell you how to feel, but that doesn’t give you license to take it out on others.

I mentioned that we couldn’t escape the Masters if we wanted to. And even at the Masters, we can’t escape breast cancer. If you follow golf you know that both Phil Mickelson’s wife Amy and his mom have been battling breast cancer. He wasn’t sure Amy would even be able to attend the Masters, but she was. When they embraced after his win, you could feel how special the moment was. And I can’t think of anyone who deserves the green jacket more.


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