Lisa Ferrero felt a lump in her right breast in the summer of 2012. She immediately went to the doctor to have it checked and was told not to worry, that they’d monitor it.
The lump didn’t increase in size, but by December 2013, Ferrero’s concern led her to push a little harder at her next appointment. This wasn’t going away.
“I guess I could order a mammogram,” the doctor said.
Ferrero asked why they didn’t do that 18 months ago.
“Because you’re so young,” the doctor replied.
Ferrero was diagnosed with breast cancer on Jan. 8 at age 31. On Valentine’s Day, she had a mastectomy to remove a tumor that was 9 centimeters.
“When I got the phone call that it was cancerous, I was really mad because I knew that I had this thing over a year, almost a year and a half,” said Ferrero, who has competed on the LPGA and Symetra tours since 2005.
One out of every eight women born today will be diagnosed with breast cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. A woman in her 30s has a 1-in-227 chance of being diagnosed, while a woman in her 40s has a 1-in-68 chance. The odds get worse with each passing decade.
“I should’ve pushed more,” Ferrero said. “Just because they say you’re too young, like I said, that doesn’t mean anything.”
Ferrero made the decision to play an LPGA event in the Bahamas in late January because once she had completed all of her medical tests, there wasn’t anything she could do until Jan. 30. The first player whom she told was Brittany Lincicome because Ferrero wanted her to know there was a legitimate reason why she wouldn’t be playing in Lincicome’s charity event down the road from Ferrero’s home in Palm Harbor, Fla.
Ferrero also told LPGA officials that she likely would be taking a minor medical this year, meaning she can make up missed 2014 tournaments next season.
Natalie Gulbis approached Ferrero in the Bahamas and asked questions.
“She said, ‘You’re a year younger than me,’ ” Ferrero recalled.
Gulbis tweeted about Ferrero’s diagnosis, asking followers to keep the Texas graduate in their prayers.
“I am getting a mammogram TODAY!!” Gulbis wrote, “and encouraging young women to get them too. I started getting mamo at 25.”
Gulbis ran that note on Instagram alongside an image that read: “Just a reminder that mammogramming your boobs is more important than Instagramming them.”
Ferrero chose to stay with her parents in California for treatment since the nearby UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center in San Francisco is among the best in the country for treating breast cancer.
Ferrero grew up on a vineyard in Lodi, Calif., where her parents, grandparents and aunt and uncle all have homes. The family has 420 acres of grapes in California, and relatives own and operate a vineyard in the Ferreros’ native Italy. Don’t ask Ferrero for advice on a wine selection while out to dinner, though.
“We have 300 cases of homemade wine a year,” she said, “so I usually drink that.”
Her golf-bag sponsor is a family neighbor and friend, Michael David Winery, whose labels include the “7 Deadly Zins.” The Ferreros sell their grapes to the winery.
Right now, there’s not much Ferrero can do but enjoy the view at the vineyard between doctor’s appointments. The good news is that she doesn’t require any radiation or chemotherapy because the cancer was isolated to the removed tumor.
The hardest part of this process, Ferrero said, was waiting 10 days to find out whether the cancer had spread.
Doctors removed lymph nodes around her armpits to test for cancer, and that limited the mobility and feeling in her right arm.
For the next four weeks, she have the tissue in her right breast prepared for the eventual implant that will reconstruct her breast.
Ferrero said the doctor offered a lumpectomy as an option but explained there was only a 50-50 chance that the operation would remove all of the cancer because the tumor was so large.
“Well, I’m not coming back,” Ferrero said. “Whatever we need to do to get it all.”
Ferrero initially thought she’d be back on the golf course in a matter of weeks but now realizes the process of healing requires a fair amount of patience.
Her goal is to be healthy enough to return in late May for the ShopRite LPGA Classic, one of her favorite stops and courses on tour. But she only recently started walking one mile on the treadmill. The feeling has yet to completely return to her arm. Plus, the reconstructive surgery is on the docket.
“I don’t want to come back too early,” she said, “because everyone else will be in midseason form.”
Ferrero’s paternal grandmother, who lives on the vineyard, had a double mastectomy at age 42. But because the cancer was on her father’s side, Ferrero’s original doctor told her it wasn’t an issue.
“What I want people to know is it doesn’t matter your age, doesn’t matter if was on your dad’s side,” Ferrero said. “Just have it checked out.”
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