Northwestern’s Fletcher coaches through cancer

Northwestern coach Emily Fletcher, with Wildcats player Innapha Tantanavivat in 2008.

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The idea of chemotherapy didn’t upset Emily Fletcher nearly as much as picturing herself bald. She could deal with chemo, pushing through the side effects quietly. A bald head, however, told the whole world something was wrong.

Fletcher’s oncologist predicted the exact day her hair would fall out and recommended someone in Chicago who specializes in hair prosthetics. The Northwestern coach posed for a picture with Lauren Weaver after the sophomore won the Lady Northern title this fall in record fashion. Just looking at the photo, no one would know Fletcher had been diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer last June.

“(The wig) has been incredibly helpful and freeing in that it allows me to come back into the workplace and not be a cause or a cancer patient,” said Fletcher, who will turn 48 on Nov. 12. “I can just be a coach.”

Fletcher’s doctor discovered a suspicious lump during a routine exam last June. She had tried to push her annual appointment back four to six weeks because of a variety of activities. Instead, her doctor rescheduled her for two days later.

“My faith is very important to me, and God was way out ahead of me on this one,” Fletcher said.

Because Fletcher’s tumor is a Grade 3, she has an aggressive chemo treatment that will extend until December. After that, she’ll have six weeks of radiation. Doctors forecast her hair will return in the spring.

“I have been praying for her daily,” said Betsy King, a longtime friend who asked Fletcher to assist her at the 2007 Solheim Cup in Sweden. “I know she has peace in this situation that probably wouldn’t be there for someone without faith.”

October was Breast Cancer Awareness month, which means Fletcher has been more aware of facts and figures about the disease. Her family has no history of cancer, and Fletcher was surprised to learn from her doctor that the same is true for seven out of 10 women who are diagnosed. Fletcher’s players made pink ribbons to display on their golf bags this month.

Amazingly, Fletcher barely has missed a beat this fall. She hosted back-to-back tournaments (Windy City Classic and Lady Northern). A chemo treatment caused her to miss practice rounds last week at the Landfall Tradition, but otherwise she has gone home early from work only twice – leaving at 4:30 rather than 6 p.m.

“(Work) really has been a safe haven for me,” Fletcher said.

Northwestern had a slow start this semester by Fletcher’s standards, but its runner-up finish to Purdue at the Lady Northern, considered a Big Ten preview, showed promise.

Fletcher said she and others at Northwestern think her team has the talent to be a top-3 program in the Big Ten.

“It’s time for us to go out and prove it,” she said.

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