Celebrating Survivors Offers Hope for Us All

One of my most vivid memories as a child was not a pleasant one. My younger siblings, Madison and Mitchell, and I were sitting around a white kitchen table after school one day in our home in Boca Raton, Florida. My mother, who was 38 at the time, was also sitting in a green chair and had her head down, and it was my father who said to us, “Your mother is sick.” As a 10-year-old, that is not something you really understand. She had been sick a bunch of times before, but it lasts a couple of days and then she’s back to normal. What’s the big deal? She looks healthy. Why are they so sad?

When you look at a seemingly healthy person who has just been diagnosed with cancer, it is impossible to imagine the cancerous cells putting up a silent fight in their body. It wasn’t until she had a mastectomy and chemotherapy that her appearance started to change, as did her wardrobe and her energy levels. The one thing that never changed was her resolve. She was determined to fight no matter how much energy it took out of her, fight for her life, and for her children. After some time had passed, she went into remission and life as we knew it returned to normal.

For a few years, we lived a relatively normal life, but I’m sure my mother always lived in fear. It’s not something I had ever asked her, but every appointment, blood draw, or mammogram had to give her anxiety about the results, hoping for another clean bill of health. And then one agonizing day, she got the news that the cancer had returned, more aggressively than before.

My mother was a great athlete. She was a competitive tennis player, won the Big 10 championship at the University of Michigan, and went on to a career of teaching tennis in the Tampa, Florida area. She put a tennis racket in my hand when I was barely old enough to be able to lift it, and I grew up running around the court with her at junior camps. Eventually, I made the transition to golf, and she always taught me that I could do anything, but I had to always give 120%. So that was exactly what I did, and one of the most special moments for me as a junior was when my mother got to watch me play in the U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles in 2001. It was shortly after her first bout with breast cancer, and I didn’t know it at the time, but it would be the only major championship in which she would ever be able to watch me compete. I will always remember being able to see her amidst a crowd of people on the right side of the first tee on the first day, watching me tee off in my very first U.S. Open.

Kathryn Krickstein Pressel lost her battle with breast cancer on September 4, 2003, at the age of 44. I was supposed to be leaving that day for the Junior Solheim Cup in Sweden, but when my grandfather picked me up early from school to catch the flight, he told me we were going home instead. I had said goodbye to my mother that morning, knowing but not wanting to believe that it might be for the very last time.

Where does a young kid go from there? It was a very tumultuous time in our family, losing the glue that kept everything together. I buried my head in school and golf, and being on the golf course became part of an escape. I used her motivation and always heard her voice in my head telling me to give it my all and never give up.

I knew the moment I turned pro that I wanted to do something to honor her memory. A golf event, a fundraiser of some kind, seemed like a natural fit, but I was young with no experience. I was very fortunate to have amazing friends in our community, St. Andrews CC, who had a lot of experience chairing big events and shared my passion for making a difference in our community in honor of my mother. In 2008, the first Morgan & Friends Fight Cancer Tournament at St. Andrews was born.

Over the past 15 years, we have received so much incredible support. From professional golfers on all tours who generously donate their time and energy, to St. Andrews members who became family and embraced the event from day one, to sponsors and donors who are committed to continuing our mission. And more recently, from other clubs like Banyan Golf Club in West Palm Beach, FL and Woodmont Country Club in Potomac, MD whose members have helped fund our initiatives in south Florida and beyond, determined to make a difference in the lives of those battling breast cancer.

One of our most visible initiatives is a mobile mammography van, the Kathryn Krickstein Pressel mammovan, which travels all around south Florida providing convenient, state-of-the-art digital mammography equipment to everyone, especially to those who otherwise wouldn’t have the access. I vividly remember one event I did a few years back during Breast Cancer Awareness Month at Panera Bread, and the mammovan was parked outside. I was busy in the back learning how to bake pink ribbon-shaped bagels, and walked outside towards the mammovan as one of the associates was walking back inside, with two other associates on her arms, in tears. Turns out, just having the mammovan on site that day sparked a conversation amongst the associates about whether they themselves had kept up to date with their mammography, and this particular woman was 53 and admitted she had never had one. Having the mammovan out in the parking lot and her friends by her side, she was nervous but felt supported and faced her fears, hopefully starting a yearly tradition of check-ups. I knew the mammovan was a powerful tool to make mammography more accessible, but I didn’t realize the conversations it would create and the good kind of peer pressure it would produce.

There are plenty of other stories as well. A patient visited the van in Coconut Creek a few years ago, and hadn’t had a scan in three years. She said the van being on site and convenient made her get a mammogram, and they found a rare spindle cell carcinoma and she was able to start treatment immediately. Another patient, a middle school teacher in Palm Beach County, visited the van during its annual stop at her school the week before the school year started. The results found cancer in her breast tissue, she ended up needing a double mastectomy and missed nearly the entire school year, but is now a breast cancer survivor.

As another Breast Cancer Awareness Month comes to a close, it all comes back full circle to remind us that one month out of the year is a privilege for those of us not actively fighting breast cancer to celebrate and raise awareness. But to others, like my dear friend who called me in tears the other day after finding out her mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer, it is a year-long, sometimes a many-year-long fight. We are hopeful that she will someday soon be a survivor as well. “Survivor” is a tough word, especially for a family who has lost someone to breast cancer. We all know my mother, and the countless other women who lost their battles to breast cancer, didn’t choose her fate. I’m sure there are plenty of other people out there who can relate. But it is important to celebrate survivors because they give us all hope. They give us a reason to keep fighting, hoping to see the day where everyone who is diagnosed with breast cancer will one day be a survivor, too.

The Morgan Pressel Foundation

To learn more about the Morgan Pressel Foundation visit morganpresselfoundation.com.