Ask Angela Stanford about her most cherished accomplishments and you will be surprised by the answer. You won’t hear about the major championship she won at Evian in 2018. She won’t immediately bring up the Solheim Cup teams she played on or the one she will help lead as an assistant captain later this year. You’ll be waiting quite some time before she gets around to the Volunteers of America Classic she won last December in Texas, her first victory on American soil in more than a decade and the first ever in her home state.
What you will get is a rundown of the 20 kids currently receiving scholarships from the Angela Stanford Foundation. They are teenagers touched by cancer, either a battle they have waged themselves or one they have fought with family members. And through her good work and the generous donations of others, the seven-time LPGA Tour winner is removing a burden from these young people’s lives.
“Cancer is like a rock you throw into a pond,” Stanford said. “The person who has cancer is at the center. But then you have all these ripples.”
She knows those ripples all too well. In 2009, Stanford’s mother, Nan, was diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma breast cancer. After several surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy, Nan’s scans and numbers remained stable for eight years. Then the cancer returned in 2018. It had metastasized into her bones. Last year, doctors found a spot on her liver.
The battle continues.
“When my mom was diagnosed in 2009, being a family that had never been effected by cancer, there were just so many unknowns,” Angela said. “The thing with cancer is that you have no idea what it’s going to do in the body. All you can do is fight. That’s been the impressive part about my mom – 2018 was a new battle, and 2020 is another battle. But you’re always fighting the unknown. That’s the hard part.”
It’s difficult for the patient but it’s often harder for the family, those who feel helpless as a loved one continues to battle the disease.
“A lot of times, you don’t know what to do,” Stanford said. “When (mom) was first diagnosed, I wanted to be home with her every day, to be right there all the time. The thing I learned really fast, she told me, ‘I’m going back to work, so I expect you to go back to work.’
“You have to figure out what they want. I realized that in being there, I was doing everything in my power to make me feel better about the situation. But it’s not about me. What makes her feel better is what’s important. For her, it was me being out on Tour, being out on the road, living my life.
“That’s what family members struggle with so often. They want to be there and to help in so many ways. But a lot of times the person who has cancer wants you to keep working. That’s what makes them happy. Now, I’ve had to tell (mom), you have to tell me when it’s time to come home.”
Stanford began her foundation in 2009 with the idea of helping children. But it wasn’t until Nan’s diagnosis and the loss of one of the foundation’s board members to cancer that the mission crystalized. “God kind of came in and said, ‘Let’s go this direction,’” Stanford said. “We’ve been giving scholarships ever since.”
She then elaborated, saying, “My mom needed a reason to get up every day, to have a purpose. That’s why she kept working. So, I thought, that’s how we can help these kids. They still want to go to school. They still need purpose and a reason to keep going. We want to give them purpose for moving forward with their lives.”
Stanford also knows the financial realities of battling a life-threatening illness. “Coming from a middle-class family, the debt associated with cancer is huge,” she said. “If you don’t come from a family that has a lot of money, you need a lot of help.”
Her foundation is one avenue for that help. Even in a pandemic year, the response and support Stanford has received for her mission exceeded expectations.
“I was overwhelmed this year,” she said. “We had some in-person interviews (with potential scholarship recipients) through Zoom. And the one thing I’ve learned is that once you meet these kids, you better be ready to tell them yes. You cannot meet them and tell them no. So, we met 10 through Zoom (last year) and knew that we had to figure out a way.
“Fortunately, 0ur fundraising surpassed what I thought we were going to be able to do in a year when so many people were hurting. It was truly a blessing, and really cool that we added our biggest class in one of the hardest years ever.”
So, what is Angela Stanford’s biggest professional accomplishment? You see it in the faces of the college students being supported through her foundation.
“I’ve always lived with the belief that you don’t get anywhere by yourself,” Stanford said. “I know that people have always been there to help me every step of the way. As a result, I have lived my life representing those people; representing my family; representing my teammates who were beside me. Now, these kids are a daily reminder that I represent my foundation and its mission.
“That’s what’s important. Let’s do the right thing. Let’s continue to help these people.”