Sirak Says: LPGA Players Fight Breast Cancer


Judy Rankin is a survivor who helps lead the fight.

PARAMUS, N.J. -- The bone-chilling gusts that topped 30 mph made the Monday-morning mercury that never climbed out of the 40s feel even colder. Steel-gray skies shrouded Ridgewood Country Club with an ominous canopy that at one point pelted sleet upon the 30 LPGA players sacrificing a day off for charity. The cold, however, did nothing to temper the warm hearts and generous intentions of those rallying to raise funds to fight breast cancer, a disease all LPGA players have known someone battle, both successfully and not, and a disease whose threat they all live under.

The LIFE Event -- LPGA Pros in the Fight to Eradicate Breast Cancer -- has become one of the best-attended charity events in women's golf. Each year since 2000 Val Skinner, the former pro and current TV commentator, has produced an impressive turnout of players like the one that gathered Monday at Ridgewood. From Hall-of-Famers Beth Daniel and Karrie Webb and Rolex Ranking No. 1 Lorena Ochoa to rookie Liz Janangelo, the participants covered the broad demographic of the LPGA, with nine nations represented, united around the undeniable thing they all have in common: They stand a one-in-nine chance of contracting a disease that will kill more than 40,080 women in the United States this year.

Rachel Hetherington, Kelli Kuehne, Carin Koch and Nicole Castrale were among those at the LIFE Event whose mothers have battled breast cancer. Morgan Pressel, who lost her mother to breast cancer in 2003, when Debbie was 43 years old and Morgan was 14, was there as well. But it is the inspiring story of Heather Farr that brings together LPGA players annually in an effort that has raised $4.5 million to benefit the Cancer Institute of New Jersey and Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which carries on important education about this deadly disease, and the Young Survival Coalition.

Farr, an LPGA player and close friend of Skinner, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1989. Four years later, at the age of 28 and after a very public fight that served as an inspiring educational tool, Farr lost her battle. The Val Skinner Foundation was established to honor Farr and use her memory and example as motivation to educate women, especially young women and minorities, about breast cancer, especially early detection and genetic screening.

Just as important as it is for the players to share their time is their willingness to share their stories. While odds of contracting breast cancer are frighteningly short, advances in early detection have made chances of survival significantly better. While fear of the unknown -- or rather the naïve notion that not knowing is better than being confronted with a difficult truth -- freezes some from potentially life-saving action, personal accounts can help transcend that fear.

"I was not sick at all," Judy Rankin, the Hall of Fame player and TV commentators who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, told the gathering at Ridgewood in the warmth of the clubhouse luncheon. "I was diligent year after year with testing. And one day the answer came back not good. I had to make difficult decisions, but I can tell you this: You are going to feel good again, you are going to feel yourself again."

Rankin, 63, returned to work for ABC at the 2006 Women's British Open and continues a full schedule. She helped start Pink Links, a class designed to promote the healing process for breast cancer survivors through the game of golf. Part of her effort to help is to speak about her situation.

"When this happened to me, I did not know that I would ever feel as good as I feel today," Rankin said. "Tell anyone you know, you do get better and you do have a life again. I am reluctant to call myself a cancer survivor because I am not sure I have survived yet, but I am in a very good place. I know what I am now."

The goal of the LIFE Event is to help eradicate breast cancer as a life-threatening disease, while reaching out to a younger generation of women and providing them with information about the importance of early detection and healthy breast-care practices. Part of the effort is Komen On the Go, a tour whose two bright pink trailers will take interactive educational experiences to more than 50 communities this year.

"If the money we raise saves one life or reduces the trauma for one breast-cancer patient, it would all be worth it," Skinner said. "I'm continually humbled by the growing impact of the intensive and proactive programs launched as a result of LIFE."

Rankin is one of those who has benefited from early detection. Her advice to the other women in the room was that bad news does not necessarily mean a bad outcome, and that while confronting the disease is life changing, it does not have to be life altering.

"We will do what we have to do when we have to do it," Rankin said about the lessons she learned from her confrontation with breast cancer. "Get back to what you were doing as quickly as you can, because it is the best way to get better," she said.