Last Update :3/3/2009

Cancer Patients in the "Swing"

Cancer patients in the ‘Swing’
By Julian J. Ramos/Staff Writer 

Participants in the “Swing Thru Cancer” program, including, from left, group facilitator Jennifer Davis, Sean Hunt, Monarch Dunes golf pro Jensen Lardizabal (partially hidden), Bonnie Ward and Joanne VanPelt-Sasso practice chipping Feb. 18 at the Monarch Dunes Golf Club in Nipomo. A group of cancer patients and survivors meet once a month at Monarch Dunes for free golf lessons from Lardizabal. //Bryan Walton/Staff

Hitting the links at a Nipomo golf course is one way Central Coast cancer patients and cancer survivors are recovering from the disease.

Called “Swing Thru Cancer,” a program by the Marian Cancer Center and the Monarch Dunes Golf Club offers free instruction in basic golf techniques and strategies to people affected by cancer.

Participants learn and practice their putting, driving and chipping skills. Besides working on their golf game, members get exercise while socializing with others who share the experience of overcoming cancer.

The group meets once a month — every third Wednesday — for one hour of instruction from Jensen Lardizabal, the head golf pro at Monarch Dunes, and Bob True, an instructor at the club.

The club also provides the equipment.

Jennifer Davis, oncology counselor at Marian Cancer Center and the Swing Thru Cancer group facilitator, said the program began in the summer of 2007 after cancer center employee Liz Elliott, whose husband, Tom Elliott, is the golf course superintendent, said the club’s trainers were willing to donate their time to patients who wanted to learn golf.

There are typically anywhere from two to three participants and up to eight to 10 in each session, Davis said.

Most of the participants are cancer survivors — at least one is still in treatment.

Last week’s group of golfers — Joann Van Pelt-Sasso, Bud McIntosh, Bonnie Ward and Sean Hunt — worked on their chipping skills.

Davis said she feels fortunate to be able to leave her Santa Maria office and go to the golf course. She also enjoys the satisfaction she gets from seeing members of the group at the course.

“It’s great for me,” she said. “I’m so encouraged by all of our patients, but it is great to see some of them show an interest to be outside and do something athletic.”

Bonnie Ward, a lung cancer survivor, had to give up golf during her treatment. The Santa Maria resident said being back out at the golf course is a welcome diversion from medical issues.

Ward, who joined the Swing Thru Cancer group last spring, said she enjoys the camaraderie with other patients and the encouragement at the cancer center to “still have a life and enjoy things”

Ward is usually joined by her daughter — also a cancer survivor.

Just two weeks after Ward was given a clean bill of health about a year and a half ago, her daughter, Jeri Wade, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Both are now in remission, but a relapse is always possible.

“You are never really out of the woods,” Ward said. “Never really clear.”

Seeing the patients getting fresh air on the golf course and taking their minds off their other challenges is rewarding, said Lardizabal, the club’s head pro since it opened in January 2006.

“I get personal satisfaction from helping others,” he said. “And it’s fun, too.”

His father, who taught him how to golf, died of lung cancer in 2000.

Sean Hunt, program nurse at the cancer center, can relate to the golfers because of his own battle with leukemia. Hunt has been at the course with the group only a few times, as he mostly works at the cancer center.

Hunt said his role and Davis’ is to give patients support during the physical and mental challenges they face while in treatment and answer the medical questions they might not have been comfortable asking their doctors.

“That’s what we’re here for,” Hunt said.

The golf program is just one of the support programs at the cancer center, but the difference is that the patients are all participating in an activity together, Davis said.

Family members and friends of cancer patients, survivors and their caregivers, are also invited to attend.

Space is limited. Call the Marian Cancer Center at 739-3780 for reservations.

February 27, 2009

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