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Cancer Doesn’t Stop Stephenson’s Golf Career

May 31, 1996

SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. (AP) _ Sandra Stephenson already was undergoing chemotherapy treatments following two operations for breast cancer when she faced another tough decision.

She could continue the treatments and miss the 1995 North Carolina Women’s Amateur championship at Asheboro, N.C., or enter the tournament with no idea of how it might affect her health.

Stephenson beat the cancer. She also won the tournament on a rain-soaked Pinewood course last June.

Stephenson’s story is one of the focal points for the Festival of Women’s Health, a three-day exhibit during this year’s U.S. Women’s Open designed to bring attention to the health needs of women.

The festival, located in a tent adjacent to the practice tee and green, features information centers advising women on how to manage their health. Breast cancer was the major topic, and proceeds from the tournament will go to breast cancer research. A tournament committee has announced that the $400,000 goal already has been met.

``I hope that the women that come through, and all the people that come through, will realize that they really can have a big impact on their health by lifestyle changes, by exercise, by good diets, by preventive health care,″ said Dr. Claire Poyet, clinical director for the Carolina Breast Cancer Detection Centers and the festival’s medical director.

Stephenson was 38 when her breast cancer was discovered.

``I thought I was the picture of health. I was strong, I was playing golf all the time,″ she said. ``I just went nonstop.″

The lump was removed in her first operation, and Stephenson tried to convince herself that she would be healthy again. She took comfort in the fact that no one in her family had ever had major health problems.

Instead, Stephenson learned she needed additional surgery. Doctors could perform either a lumpectomy, which would extract cancerous tissue from around the original site and remove lymph nodes from under her arm, or a mastectomy, removing the affected breast.

``It was my option. The doctors wouldn’t tell me either way the route that I should take,″ Stephenson recalled. ``They said that the cure rate for both procedures was the same.″

Stephenson opted for the lumpectomy and the subsequent chemotherapy, five days a week for seven weeks starting in March 1995. The chemotherapy is considered a more extensive treatment than radiation therapy, but can help reduce the chance of another outbreak of cancer elsewhere in the body.

``You feel like there’s no need to subject your body to that,″ she said. ``But then again, I said if I get five years down the road and this stuff comes back, I could have prevented it. So I agreed to do that.″

Although she was warned of the side-effects of chemotherapy, Stephenson lost no hair and said her spells of sickness were slight.

By June of that year, Stephenson had undergone three chemotherapy treatments. She also was looking at the deadline for applying for the North Carolina Women’s Amateur. Her doctor gave her the go-ahead, which became an even better therapy.

The opening round was rained out, but when Stephenson finally got on the course, her play was steady and solid. When she wasn’t swinging a club, she was giving quiet thanks.

``I think every time I had a chance to stand still, I just stood there and said prayers,″ Stephenson said. ``I couldn’t believe that I was there after what I had been going through for those two months.″

On the 18th hole and holding a two-shot lead, Stephenson hit her approach shot to within two feet of the cup. The tournament was hers, and the tears of joy mingled with rain.

``It was just an awesome, overwhelming feeling,″ Stephenson said. ``I cried.″