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Putting It Into Perspective

Pro golfer Billy Mayfair on golf, cancer, and what’s really important in life

by Laura Shipp

Celebrity Cancer Survivor

Billy Mayfair
(photo courtesy of the PGA Tour)

Five-time PGA Tour winner Billy Mayfair has an impressive résumé. He has won some of the Tour’s most prestigious events, including the 1998 Nissan Open, where he defeated Tiger Woods in a sudden-death duel.

His best year came in 1995 when he garnered two wins and three runner-up finishes. He finished the year number two on the final money list after capping off the season by winning the PGA Tour Championship. He currently ranks among the top 35 on the PGA Tour All-Time Career Money List, with 2010 marking his 21st consecutive season on the Tour. But a few years ago, Billy received news that made him question whether he would ever play again.

In late July 2006, while in Flint, MI, for the Buick Open, “I was getting out of the shower, and I felt a large bump just below my groin,” Billy tells Coping®. “I looked in the mirror, and I could see that my right testicle was about the size of a baseball. I didn’t think very much about it, but it just didn’t feel right.” Believing it was probably nothing serious, he decided to get it checked out anyway, just to be sure. It was serious. Billy had testicular cancer.

“It scared me,” he says. “I went from playing golf and trying to make the Ryder Cup team to wondering if I was going to be able to see my [seven-year-old] son grow up. It put things into perspective and made golf seem a lot less important.”

That was on Monday. On Thursday, he had surgery to remove his right testicle and the cancer along with it. “I had never had surgery,” Billy reveals. “I was nervous about the cancer, but I was very scared of having the surgery.”

His fears were soon assuaged. The surgery went well, the cancer was contained and removed completely, and Billy returned to golf just two weeks later to play in the PGA Tour Championship. “I jumped right back into it,” he says. “It was the end of the season, and I wanted to play the last couple of tournaments.” Of course, he adds, “I was very careful, and tried to keep it out of the rough.”

“I went from playing golf to wondering if I was going to be able to see my son grow up.”

Billy finished the tournament in 37th place, but the scores didn’t matter. He was grateful just to tee off. When the season ended, Billy returned home for 16 radiation treatments to kill any cancer cells that may have been lurking. Though the treatments left him exhausted, he found comfort in the self-reassurance that “it wasn’t nearly as bad as chemotherapy,” and in the support of his fiancée (now-wife), Tami, and son, Max. “Tami helped me through the tough times,” he says, “and Max made me want to live and be well.”

No one would deny that 2006 was a tough year for Billy. He cared for his mother as she recovered from a stroke and a heart attack, he endured the dissolution of his 12-year marriage, and then there was the cancer. But through everything, he asserts, “I never felt sorry for myself, that’s for sure.”

As Billy has already affirmed, cancer puts everything into perspective. What’s important in life is, well, life. And for that, Billy says, “I feel very lucky.”

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This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, July/August 2010.