In fight against cancer, UMKC's Sam Humphreys determined to return to golf

UMKC

In fight against cancer, UMKC's Sam Humphreys determined to return to golf

College

In fight against cancer, UMKC's Sam Humphreys determined to return to golf

Over the summer Sam Humphreys did something he’s done 1,000 times before on the driving range. He put his foot down on the face of a golf club to pick it up. Only he rushed, and the shaft of the club popped up and hit him, well, you know, there.

The pain lasted for three days, and that’s ultimately how Humphreys, a redshirt senior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, discovered he had testicular cancer.

“When the club hit my right testicle it traumatized the tumor,” said Humphreys from his home in Edmond, Okla. “My mass was only 2 ½ centimeters. I wouldn’t have felt it until 5 (cm), which would’ve been another year. It literally saved my life.”

Humphreys, a man of strong faith, believes God was behind the accidental hit. This was no coincidence, he said. The 23-year-old still gets emotional talking about the day doctors told him they’d have to remove his right testicle.

“It was kind of like a sledgehammer on the phone,” said UMKC coach J.W. VanDenBorn of hearing the news.

But the shock didn’t end there.

A CAT scan later revealed that the cancer had spread to Humphreys’ lymph nodes. That was three weeks ago. Humphreys had a port put in his chest for the chemotherapy, a grueling treatment that will extend until the end of October.

Doctors told the competitive Humphreys that he probably wouldn’t be able to practice until the middle of November. On Sept. 3 he began work on his short game.

“I’m a little early,” he said. “Doctors over-exaggerate stuff.”

Don’t be mistaken. The weekends after chemo are the worst. Humphreys spends most of that time in the fetal position watching football.

Not being able to compete this fall for UMKC was the worst of it, though. Humphreys transferred to UMKC in the fall of 2016 after Tulsa shuttered its men’s golf program.

“He’s been all in from the time that he transferred and has just done nothing but pump positivity on our team,” said VanDenBorn. “There’s not a person on the team that cares more about our program than Sam.”

The uber-upbeat Humphreys applied that same outlook to his battle with cancer. His spreads his message of hope on Twitter, where UMKC started the hashtag #SamStrong.

Last season Humphreys took freshman Taylor Larsen under his wing. Larsen, 19, said Humphreys is like a dad and best friend, equal parts wise and fun.
Larsen didn’t know how to take the news at first. They’re so young. How could this be happening?

According to the American Cancer Society, about half of testicular cancers occur in men between the ages of 20 and 34. Humphrey’s doctor said it skews even younger, 13-25, and that Oklahoma averages about 80 cases per year.

“It’s a 98-percent cure rate as far as the chemo goes,” said Humphreys. “The problem is stuff can still hide. Praying everything comes back clean after the chemo.”

Sam at chemotherapy with Dax Johnston, the University of Central Oklahoma golf coach.

Larsen still talks to Humphreys daily. Sometimes not even about how he’s feeling – just life.

“Being around him was the most comfortable feeling there is,” said Larsen. “He always made it that way.”

And so, they all look forward to the day their emotional leader returns to school. During team qualifying, VanDenBorn texts Humphreys an updated leaderboard every three to five holes.

It’s not just the leadership VanDenBorn will miss. In his time at UMKC, Humphreys has shaved three strokes off his average.

“If you challenge him or put an obstacle in front of him,” said VanDenBorn. “He kind always has that air about him that has something to prove or somebody to prove wrong.”

Humphreys fully expects to return to campus in January to finish out his career at UMKC. He’ll be taking two online classes this fall to stay eligible and remain on schedule for graduation.

In the middle of it all, Humphreys and childhood friend Michael Hampton made a last-minute trek to St. Louis to watch Tiger Woods contend at the PGA Championship. The pair drove through the night, arriving at 4 a.m. They slept in the car for a couple hours and then walked through the gates at 7 a.m., the first to arrive on the first tee.

“I’ll never forget Tiger making the birdie putt on 13 and being in the middle of 20,000 people take off on a dead sprint up the hill in pure joy,” Humphreys tweeted.

Cancer wasn’t about to take the moment from Humphreys, who describes this fight as “a stepping stone” in the story of his life.

“The negative side of things people try to portray as the truth,” he said. “I really don’t feel like that at all. There’s so much more good than bad.”

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