Coronavirus just another hurdle in an unusual college golf career
Photos by Alan P. Pittman during video chat
The past year and a half has been the most trying of my life. I was diagnosed with cancer in June 2018 and was finally coming out on the other side of it when my collegiate golf career at the University of Missouri-Kansas City abruptly ended in March.
I had ended up at UMKC when the golf program at the University of Tulsa was cut after my sophomore year. Things were going well at UMKC until the summer before my senior year. I made the starting lineup and earned a full scholarship. I returned home and was preparing for an event when I stepped on the face of a club to pick it up. It snapped up into my groin, and I doubled over in pain. It was a discomfort I had never experienced, and it was so excruciating that I couldn’t focus on anything else. It wasn’t subsiding, so I went to the doctor who ran some tests and prescribed pain medication.
I didn’t even know they were testing me for testicular cancer. I was a healthy 23-year-old and had just finished seventh in the Oklahoma Stroke Play Championship. But after the final round, my dad told me the doctor had called and that we needed to see him immediately. I knew something was wrong.
It’s a shock to be told you have cancer. Everything blurs. You question why and how this happened. The pain I was feeling was a tumor, and I needed emergency surgery the next day. I prayed more in the next 24 hours than I had in my entire life.
The surgery went well, and a month later I was feeling better. I was hitting balls again and was eager to get back on the course. But the six-week CAT scan came back, and the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. I was crushed and scared of what was to come. All I knew was that I’d be going through chemo instead of moving back to school.
Chemotherapy is brutal. It’s like being hungover and having the flu and just being super sick at the same time. I did four rounds of chemo. One round was Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.—just getting fluids, steroids and drugs pumped into me. Then I’d have two weeks off to recover. It was awful. I remember lying on the couch in the fetal position and watching football, sipping on pickle juice so I could stop throwing up to get some sleep.
I somehow kept a positive mind-set throughout my treatment. I had family and friends supporting me and a strong sense of faith. I wanted to show people that you don’t stop living when you have cancer. Continuing to do what you love is important, so I would try to hit balls or catch up with friends when I felt up to it. I kept telling myself I’d get through it.
I finished chemo on Nov. 2, 2018. After that, my CAT scan came back, and I was cancer free. That was the biggest relief of my life. I still get emotional thinking about it. When you have cancer, you can’t really plan for the future. So I was excited to move back to school and get into a normal routine. But then I developed a blood clot in my lung and peripheral neuropathy in my fingers and toes, which is basically that tingling feeling you get when your arm falls asleep. But I slowly started to improve.
I worked hard last summer to get my game back. I’d have a few great rounds followed by a day or two where I just felt off. But it was just so great to be back on the course, and by the time I returned to school for my last season of eligibility, I was feeling like my old self.
College golf has two seasons, fall and spring. In October, my team was playing in an event in Hawaii. My mom was waiting for me when I walked off the course after shooting even par all three rounds. With tears in her eyes, she said “You did it. This is what we talked about in those hospital beds. We said, ‘You’re going to be out there again one day competing with your team.’ ” It finally hit me how far I’d come, and it’s a moment I’ll never forget.
We had started our spring season when the coronavirus hit. We were playing a practice round at Milburn Country Club in Kansas City and supposed to leave for an event in Louisiana the next day. By the 16th tee we knew our season was over, but it didn’t really sink in for a few days. Between that and moving back home, everything seemed to be canceled instantly. It’s a tough situation for student-athletes, but I’ve learned a lot about perseverance the past few years, and I know we’ll get through this, too.
It’s unfortunate, but at the same time my experience with cancer has given me perspective. It showed me the importance of staying positive and having faith that we can get through this. I got my degree in communications in December and am ready to move on from college golf. My plan is to play professionally, so I’m keeping my game sharp. For now, I’m using this extra time to appreciate my family and friends and reminding myself that this too shall pass. —with Claire Rogers
Sam Humphreys lives in Edmond, Okla., and is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City where he played the last three seasons for the Roos golf team.
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