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Arnold Palmer

Golfing Legend and Cancer Survivor

by Julie McKenna

Celebrity Cancer Survivor

Since becoming a professional golfer in 1954, Arnold Palmer has grown into a worldwide legend. Over the years, he has also excelled as a pilot, golf course designer and consultant, business executive, and advertising spokesman. He has received numerous honors, plaques, and trophies for his accomplishments, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush at a White House ceremony in 2004. Having succeeded in so many areas throughout his prestigious career, Arnold Palmer knows what it means to overcome adversity, especially when, in 1997, he faced a diagnosis of prostate cancer.

Palmer attributes his survival to diligent checkups that led to an early diagnosis. He had been having thorough checkups from his doctor every year, including a PSA test. “Through the years we watched my PSA level and one year all of a sudden there was a slight movement and of course my doctor said to me, ‘We will watch that very carefully,’” recalls Palmer. “Well, in another year or so it jumped a little more and then it went above four. When it did that we started doing biopsies and within a year we discovered I had prostate cancer.”

Palmer knew the importance of being informed about his treatment options so he made sure he was involved in making the decision to have surgery. “I was very involved and I was given all the choices. Looking back right now, my suspicions are that I would probably do the same thing,” says Palmer.

After his surgery, Palmer was quick to recover – only taking a short six-week rest period before heading back out to the links again. “Golfing was something that I looked forward to and I couldn’t wait to be told that I could go play,” says Palmer.

“I think that everyone has to look at life as it is.”

Celebrity Cancer Survivor


Although it was a major hurdle to overcome, Palmer does not feel that facing prostate cancer changed his perspective on his career or personal life. “I think that everyone has to look at life as it is,” explains Palmer. “Certainly it’s a shock to be told that you have cancer, but on the other hand you do everything you can to get well and I did just that. I did what my doctors told me, I listened to their recommendations, I followed their instructions, and now I feel very good.”

Having recovered fully from prostate cancer, Palmer has become an advocate for cancer research and early detection – partially due to his own experience with cancer, and to that of Winifred, his wife of 45 years, who passed away from cancer in 1999. His family has always been a source of strength for him, and in January 2005 Palmer married his second wife, Kathleen.

“I think one of the big keys to curing cancer is to follow the instructions of your doctors,” Palmer advises. “Sometimes there isn’t anything you can do, but good faith can really have a tremendous effect on any adversity, whether it is cancer or any other challenge that you might face.”

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This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, July/August 2005.