by Bart Potter
WHEN LAST WE encountered Terry Lee, he was sipping a beer and drinking in the feeling of a good round of tournament golf.
His 93 that day was modest for a guy who once played to a single-digit handicap. But it led, by the end of the weekend, to a second low-net finish at the 2008 Capitol City Amateur.
It was not about the numbers then. It wasn’t even really about golf.
Lee was happy because he was healthy, well enough to feel a little like the athlete he was when he played basketball for Saint Martin’s in the ‘70s.
Last week came an email that started, “It’s me, Terry Lee. I’m still alive and battling the melanoma skin cancer.”
He had, on that day in June ‘08, enjoyed some respite from melanoma, which is the most lethal form of skin cancer and one of the deadliest cancers known to humankind.
True to its nature, the cancer came back.
Flash forward to April 2010. The 53-year-old Lee is now nearly a year removed from his last cancer surgery (May 29, 2009, to be exact).
His back, he says, looks like he was mauled by a lion after the latest lumpectomy surgery, which was his eighth or ninth operation – he’s lost count – since December 2005.
But he’s cancer-free, thanks to a trial chemotherapy regimen that’s 14 days on, 14 days off. He gets infused with the chemicals Leukine or Sargostim in GM-CSF treatments – the last three initials stand for Colony Stimulating Factor.
The treatment stimulates the production of white and red blood cells so they can hunt and kill any melanoma cells before they plant themselves and create havoc.
“I get a little nausea and my bones ache, but it seems to be working,” he said in the email. “(The surgery) messed up my golf plans for the year, but the cancer has not returned.”
What Lee really wanted to talk about was a program at the Briggs YMCA, sponsored by Lance Armstrong’s LiveStrong Foundation and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The goal is to help cancer survivors get stronger physically through exercise and peer support.
The downtown Olympia YMCA had four people enrolled in the program, and it petered out, Lee said. The Briggs Y also had four survivors sign up, and it’s an ongoing project.
“Three very short women and a big ol’ tall redhead, me,” Lee wrote.
The four survivors get together Monday and Wednesday afternoons. They meet for a bit before heading to the workout room for cardio and weight training with personal trainers.
Then the four gather again to share an orange, banana or strawberry, and talk.
Lee caps off his day with a couple more exercises, then heads to the Jacuzzi for a 20-minute float, after which he lingers at the sink, taking care to pamper himself with toiletries.
“It’s a treat,” Lee wrote. “A little spiritual, a workout, some affirmation and don’t underestimate those endorphins.”
Lee found himself bonding with the three women in the program with him, three people with different backgrounds, medical histories and outlooks.
The program is due to end, though the Hutchinson and LiveStrong people are looking at the potential for fundraising to keep the Briggs program and similar programs going.
“Wednesday (tomorrow) will be the last one,” Lee said. “When I realized it was that close I started to cry.
“My goal is to see this program continue, not just for my benefit.”
What it gave him, he said, was a return to life.
“It’s weird, the tinglings that come back of my prior life,” he said. “It’s pretty heartening to feel those things.”
That process will continue, and golf will be a part of it.
He’s contacted local pro LeAnne Hine to see about lessons.
“I want it to be a fresh start,” he said. “Not a new swing as much as a proper swing. I don’t want to relearn bad habits.”
His return to golf, he said, will be a return to a social environment where it’s not about his cancer or its treatment.
“I can go be with people,” he said. “I don’t have to be wrapped up in myself.”
It’s a journey, and Lee knows very well where he’s been.
“There are tears shed when one realizes the passage of time and the ravages of disease have stolen things that we can only hope to get back.
“Ah,” he finished, “but there is magic in that hope.”
Hear the word – As recounted in a previous column (July 18, 2008), Lee believes he might be able to trace his cancer to the “blister-on-blister” burns he suffered on the backs of his legs one day as a Los Angeles teenager.
He doesn’t want it to happen to you. At a recent meeting of the South Sound Sailing Society, he told the members, “If you’re not wearing your sunscreen you’re nuts. You’ll join me in this battle for your life.”