There was silence on the other end of the phone. Elisa Gaudet had been pouring her heart out about the double mastectomy, the painful divorce, the sleepless nights. How could a woman who drove her family nuts with her super-organic, farm-raised, preservative-free refrigerator and a perfectly clear mammogram be diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer?
She’d been trying to answer the unanswerable – Why? – when we lost cell service.
“I just want it to be over,” Gaudet finally said through thick sobs. The connection was, it turns out, strong. Gaudet, a passionate, big-picture, go-getter of a woman, had become too overwhelmed to speak.
The only thing that makes sense to Gaudet about the “why” part so far is that because she’s the leader of a promising global initiative – Women’s Golf Day – perhaps her story will resonate and prevent someone else with dense breast tissue from taking a clean mammogram as gospel.
Thirty-nine days after Gaudet got an all-clear mammogram for a breast augmentation, a freak accident eventually led to an ultrasound in Geneva, Switzerland, that revealed one tumor in her left breast and four small ones in her right.
“They say I could’ve been dead by now,” she said.
The birth of a movement
Gaudet, who now is living with one breast and scars she says look like railroad tracks, started out as a model, working months-long stints in Toyko and Cape Town. Gaudet likes to say she was less Cindy Crawford and more girl-next-door who could sell you a Camry.
After a decade of modeling, Gaudet suited up in the navy and khaki golf industry by chance. She worked first for the Tour de las Americas in marketing and sponsorship before helping execute the 2002 EMC World Cup in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for the PGA Tour. She now has her own consulting firm, Executive Golf International.
The idea for Women’s Golf Day was born in Central Park, where Gaudet stumbled upon an event involving a massive collection of yellow yoga mats. It was a light bulb moment for a woman who had grown tired of the stale fashion shows men threw in an attempt to draw more women into golf.
“What I saw in the marketplace was fragmentation,” she said.
The idea of a one-day, four-hour event that was light, inviting and competition-free began to percolate. Gaudet first floated it to World Golf Foundation CEO Steve Mona in January 2016 on a bench outside the media center at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. Both private and public clubs can register to participate, as well as retail stores. The event is split between two hours of a golf-related activity and two hours of socializing.
“The genius in this is in its simplicity,” Mona said.
The third edition of Women’s Golf Day is slated for Tuesday. The initiative grew 68 percent after its first year, with events taking place in 46 countries and 711 venues.
“I’m beyond honored to say we had four Muslim countries,” Gaudet said.
Alida Vilogorac, a close friend and ambassador for the organization in Switzerland, was in Palm Beach with Gaudet on Women’s Golf Day last year. The excitement began early with Skype calls from Australia and then Africa, and ended with a late-night chat with those participating in Hawaii.
In Switzerland, Vilogorac said, single women with good careers don’t often know how to approach the golf community.
“Normally here you start to play if you’re a couple and your husband or companion plays,” she said.
This event opens another door.
Gaudet would rather not talk about the breast augmentation. The result, she said, was so subtle even her mother wouldn’t have noticed. But to get the story out – to help at least one person – she had to start there.
Prior to the augmentation, Gaudet had to schedule a mammogram, which immediately came back clear. Two days later, on June 28, she had the procedure done.
“It came out perfect,” she said. “Michelangelo.”
Thirteen days later she was at an event at a beach-side hotel in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., when a patio umbrella came loose from the table and nailed the back of her head. She went flying.
Gaudet left in an ambulance and had two staples put in her head. Her left side was bruised from her armpit to her hip. While in Geneva for a long-term stay for business, she went to see Dr. Xavier Tenorio believing she had developed a hematoma after the incident. Tenorio referred her to another doctor for an ultrasound. He discovered the tumors and ordered a biopsy. While in a museum on a Saturday in Zurich, Gaudet heard the jarring report: You’ve got breast cancer.
“It was just like a bad dream,” Vilogorac said. “We all believed in the mammogram.”
Gaudet was soon back in South Florida, where her condo was under construction. She checked into the local Hilton, which she called home for the next 40 days.
Gaudet chose to have a double mastectomy to avoid radiation and chemotherapy.
Dr. Yvette Laclaustra performed the operation, and her brother-in-law, Dr. Luis Vinas, put in the implants during the same procedure.
That should’ve been the closure Gaudet so desperately sought. But not two months later, she developed an infection in her left breast and the implant was removed.
For 94 days Gaudet never slept more than four hours a night. She dropped to a size 0.
“I learned to shower at night,” she said of struggling with the sight of her own body.
The complications resulted in six weeks of radiation. She’s scheduled to have the second implant re-inserted in March.
Were it not for Tenorio’s decision to order the ultrasound in Geneva, Gaudet believes the cancer might have been caught too late, as she was not in the habit of getting an annual mammogram.
Dr. Robert Smith, vice president of cancer screening, cancer control department for the American Cancer Society, said it’s estimated that for 7 to 8 percent of the population, mammograms are ineffective due to breast density.
As of now, Florida does not have a breast-density notification law, meaning women such as Gaudet can be unaware that an ultrasound might be needed to detect tumors.
“Don’t confuse density with firmness or lumpiness,” Smith said.
And breasts aren’t uniformly dense, he continued, meaning there might simply be an area that’s large enough to hide an abnormality.
Federal legislation has been introduced into both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate that would require mammography reports to include information about breast density and its impact on masking the presence of cancer on mammography.
“You would think this would be kind of a no-brainer,” Smith said.
Women’s Golf Day
WHEN: Tuesday (June 5, 2018)
WHAT IS IT? A collaborative effort by a dedicated team, golf management companies, retailers and organizations working together to engage, empower and support girls and women through golf. The 4-hour experience allows a simple and accessible platform to build a foundation and creates a network to support the continuation of golf no matter what skill level or interest.
WHERE: 46 countries with 711 venues
ON THE WEB: womensgolfday.com
On Sept. 11, 2017, the day after Hurricane Irma ripped through South Florida, Gaudet found herself in the hospital once again after fainting from dehydration. On the wall of her hospital room she looked up to the faces of Arnold Palmer, Tony Jacklin and Jack Nicklaus.
“When I saw it I was shocked,” Gaudet said of the print on the wall. “It was better than seeing a photo of Jesus Christ.”
Strong words for a woman who was raised Roman Catholic.
Gaudet asked if all the rooms in the hospital had golf prints and was told that was only one. She went back three weeks later and asked if she could make a donation in return for the print. It now sits in her bedroom on the right side of the bed, just like the hospital.
Gaudet clings to the good that has happened these past few months. Like the Patriots hat her cousin Tony sent or the Boston Strong shirt from cousin Tim. She rejuvenated with horses on a farm in Argentina and found strength in a friend from San Francisco who was battling lymphoma. They went to Paris together after completing radiation.
‘Strong’ was her only choice
A Bob Marley quote became her mantra: “You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice.”
The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 268,670 new cases of breast cancer in 2018 and that 41,400 men and women will die from the disease. Gaudet is desperate to get the word out that mammograms aren’t always enough.
She looks at the 17,000 connections on her LinkedIn account and thinks about all the women in each person’s life – moms, daughters, sisters and aunts. She thinks about the rapid growth of Women’s Golf Day and what that means in terms of getting her message out. This year she’s asking each venue to add a charity component to the program.
“This is my fingerprint,” she said.
A passion project that has taken on a whole new dimension. Gwk
Breast Cancer Screening
Women ages between 40 and 44: Have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year.
Women 45 to 54: Should get mammograms every year.
Women 55 and older: Can switch to a mammogram every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms. Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.
All women: Should understand what to expect when getting a mammogram for breast cancer screening – what the test can and cannot do. … Mammograms are not perfect. They miss some cancers. And sometimes a woman will need more tests to find out if something found on a mammogram is or is not cancer.
– American Cancer Society
(Note: This appeared in the Jan. 29, 2018 issue of Golfweek.)