FORT WORTH, Texas – On April 27, a phone call confirmed the worst fears of Stewart and Lisa Cink. Just days after her 43rd birthday, after a mammogram caused concern, her biopsy revealed breast cancer. Suddenly, birdies and bogeys took a backseat to a fight for one’s life.
Cink announced he would be stepping away from golf to support his wife “until circumstances improve for her.” What happened next, he described as “the worst two weeks of my life, by far.”
“It was nothing but bad news over and over,” Cink said. “Every test was like the worst news we could get.”
This all began when Lisa discovered a lump on her chest and decided she had better get it examined. The phone call with the diagnosis came late last month, during the week of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. For the first time in Cink’s 20-plus-year career as a professional golfer, he forgot to commit to an event before the Friday deadline.
“It was meant for me to be at home when the diagnosis came,” Cink wrote in his diary on CaringBridge.com. “I can’t imagine her being alone when the news came.”
The first three phone calls the Cinks made after their lives were rocked were to Amy Mickelson, a breast-cancer survivor; Linda Sluman, wife of PGA Tour Champions pro Jeff and an oncologist; and NBC’s Mark Rolfing, who had just waged his own battle with cancer successfully.
“We were in a huge cloud of doubt and fear of what may lie ahead,” Cink said. “We didn’t know what we were facing.”
Lisa Cink went through a battery of tests at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, which revealed stage 4 breast cancer. (“Her organs are clear so far,” Cink said.)
“We know what we are facing. Now it is about the treatment,” Cink said. “We’re in a fight.”
Lisa began chemotherapy on May 10. Or as Cink wrote, “Shots fired. The offensive has begun.” It’s an 18-week program, with treatment occurring in three-week intervals to allow the body to bounce back before each round. Her second treatment is scheduled for May 31 in her hometown of Atlanta. Her fourth treatment will be back at MD Anderson to see how the tumor is responding to treatment.
Cink, the winner of the 2009 British Open among his six Tour titles, was a husband and father while still at Georgia Tech. He and Lisa have two college-age sons, Connor and Reagan. Stewart has shifted into a caregiver role. Lisa has suffered only mild side effects, and she has forced her husband out of the house to play golf on several occasions to maintain a level of normalcy in their lives.
“I’ve played quite a bit,” Cink said. “I thought golf would give me a chance to get away from reality for a little while, but that’s not the case at all. When I go to the golf course, she’s all I think about.”
Circumstances haven’t necessarily improved, but the third week of Lisa’s treatment is the most predictable, and so Cink, in an attempt to keep “pieces of normal,” is returning to the Tour at the Dean and DeLuca Invitational, which begins today at Colonial Country Club. It is his first tournament since the RBC Heritage in mid-April. He missed the past five Tour events.
“Earlier this month, I didn’t feel like I’d ever want to play again,” Cink said. “Now we have a handle on what it is, and we know what we’re dealing with and what to expect.”
Buoyed by the support of friends and strangers, Cink said he is looking forward to seeing his PGA Tour family, “not just the players but officials and media, too,” he said. Encouragement has come from all corners of the golf world, including the pink ribbons worn by competitors at The Players Championship in Lisa’s honor during Sunday’s final round.
“To describe it as touching is an understatement,” he said.
Cink doesn’t mind talking about Lisa’s cancer. His words flowed with optimism, but when he’s alone the bluster fades, his mind races and the weight of uncertainty settles on him. Lisa could be a candidate for surgery and radiation down the road, he said.
“We’ve had some conversation people our age shouldn’t be having,” he said.
In this trying time, the Cinks’ faith has been their guide (“We feel like our faith is being forged like hot metal,” he wrote) and their marital ties strengthened, he said. Writing about her fight on the CaringBridge site is his therapy. Cink concluded his May 5 post this way: “What a bond this has become for us too. Men go hug your women. Listen to them. Care for them. Love them.”