For this golfer, breast cancer is no handicap

Laura Martin (left) and golf great Nancy Lopez. Chemo trouble in 2011 set back her recovery, but an 11-year-old relative changed her life.
Laura Martin (left) and golf great Nancy Lopez. Chemo trouble in 2011 set back her recovery, but an 11-year-old relative changed her life.
Posted: October 08, 2012

Through Oct. 17, Philly.com and The Inquirer will mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month by publishing a profile a day of transformative moments reported by patients. The series culminates in a Philly.com/Inquirer/Daily News section Oct. 18, and can be viewed at www.philly.com/breastcancer .

"I am a huge golfer," says Laura Martin, 53. "I played on the boys' team in high school, in college at Duke University. I play in a lot of local Philadelphia Women's Golf Association events, with a 6 handicap. I LOVE GOLF!!"

Laura also loves life. She eats right, takes excellent care of herself, and is so relentlessly positive that her nickname is "Sunny and 75."

In spring 2011, however, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was in relatively good spirits, putting up the good fight, until her third round of chemo, when an "infiltration" - a leak - took place. Deadly chemicals spread through her arm.

"My tissue began burning from the inside out," she said. "My forearm swelled to twice its size. I could not wear a watch. I had a flaming knot on my elbow, ironically, the size of a golf ball. The pain was unreal. I wanted to cut my arm off at the shoulder.

"There is no medical treatment for this," she continued. "The chemo had to work its way out of my system on its own terms . . . slowly. My oncologist gave me pain medication to provide some relief. He made me e-mail him a picture of my forearm every day.

"Based upon how my arm looked and felt," said Laura, "I was certain that I would never play golf again. I was devastated. I had never missed a Team Match (the biggest competition of the year among the Philadelphia Women's Golf Association) in 36 years!!! I thought that I would have to give up golf for gardening. I would have to give up vacations - because all I do on vacation is travel the world and play GOLF."

A month passed, and her arm improved slightly. "It was early April," she said, "spring break, and I ALWAYS go away for spring break somewhere warm and fun to practice my golf and prepare for the Team Matches, which religiously begin every year during the last week of April."

Laura was the No. 1 player at Philadelphia Country Club and captain of the team. But that spring, she felt she could not go away to prepare, because she had chemo every Friday and "a left arm that I do not trust will work for golf!!!!!"

"Thankfully," she added, "a very good friend gave me her home in Rehoboth Beach to relax and chill for a few days over spring break. One morning, my 11-year-old niece Lauren Burns suggested that we play golf since it was a beautiful day. I told her that I did not think I could play. My arm was still very sore. But I would ride around with her and her mom, maybe putt a little bit.

"The others teed off," Laura said. "My niece said to me, 'Aunt Laura, just TRY to hit it. Just TRY to play.' I said that I was afraid that it would really hurt to hit the ball. She really wanted me to try, so I teed the ball up, took a swing, and whacked it down the center of the fairway as if my arm was completely normal!"

Her niece stood on the seat of the golf cart and screamed at the top of her lungs, "AUNT LAURA, WHAT CANCER?"

"This was a defining moment for me," said Laura. "This child wanted me to forget that I had cancer, that the treatment had scarred my arm. She wanted me to play and enjoy the game that is so much a part of our lives."

A couple of weeks later, Laura played in the Team Matches. Her niece had given her the confidence to try.

And here's maybe the best part:

The first match was against Aronimink. Laura played its No. 1 player. Laura won the 18th hole to tie the match, and birdied the 19th hole to win.

"Keep in mind I am bald and three months into chemo," Laura said, "not at full strength."

All seven players on both teams stay for lunch together. "I had to eat very quickly because it was late," Laura said. "As I excused myself, my teammate said, 'Do you have to get back to work?' I replied 'NO, I have to be at chemo at 2!!!!!!!!!

"Brought the house down."

- Michael Vitez

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