Heather MacRae was in a wheelchair in June, having just undergone a hysterectomy after being diagnosed with cervical cancer.
Unable to walk and too weak to even make a cup of coffee, a return to the golf course seemed almost unthinkable. Survival was the only thing on her mind.
But five months on, the 36-year-old Scot is preparing to compete in the Women’s PGA Cup in Texas from 22-26 October.
Here, she tells BBC Scotland about being unable to walk, making a heart-wrenching decision and representing her country.
‘There were complications; I couldn’t walk’
MacRae found out in March that she had cervical cancer, having told nobody that she was going to hospital for a biopsy. The diagnosis, she told BBC Scotland earlier this year, “was all a bit of a shock”. In June, just two weeks after winning Women’s PGA Professional Championship, she had surgery.
The operation went to plan. I was in on the Friday and got home on the Sunday – a lot quicker than I thought. The next few weeks were pretty grim. I went from being active to having someone hold my arm when I went for a five-minute walk or make a cup of coffee. Even today when I’m out practising, I’m like ‘oh, I can carry the practice balls; a couple of months ago I couldn’t do that’. It’s those little things you don’t think about, like going to the supermarket.
I got a phone call saying everything looked fine, but had to go back in about six weeks after the op because there were some complication and I couldn’t walk. I was in a wheelchair. My nieces were pushing me, thinking it was fun, and that was a tough time but you can’t do anything about it. When I was back recently at the hospital it brought back memories, but you also sit there and think ‘that I’ve been really lucky – there are people there that don’t get that phone call’. It could have been a lot worse. Yes it’s bad and its changed my life, but it could have been a whole lot worse.
‘I’m no good to my family if I’m not healthy’
At one of her earlier consultations, MacRae was told that she might need a hysterectomy. That advice changed a couple of times over the following weeks, before it was confirmed that the surgery to remove her womb would give her the best possible chance of getting the cancer out of her system.
That was a tough time, but my response was just: “How do we just get on with it? How do we take all the cancer out? How can I be fit and healthy again?”. It’s what I wanted. I didn’t want to have to live with ifs, buts and maybes. I just wanted me to get fit and healthy and I’m not much good to my family if I’m not that. I’ve got good nieces and nephews that I can look after and play with, so… My sister’s two girls are 10 and 12, and they’ve always seen me as being really strong and active, and I didn’t want them to think that if you have cancer, that’s it – a bad ending. I wanted them to see me as a good role model.
It’s one of those things that will always be there – albeit at this moment in my life, having kids wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. There are times you see kids running around or you’re with friends and they’re talking about it and you kinda think about it. But it makes you more sensitive to things. I always think if you make the right choice for the right reasons at that time, you won’t look back and regret it and ultimately there really was no choice.
‘It’s all I wanted to go in golf’
Having been warned that she could be unable to play golf for months, MacRae made her comeback in August at the PGA Fourball Championship at Farleigh before taking part in the Scottish PGA Championship at Downfield the following week. Remarkably, she will close this month by playing in the Women’s PGA Cup in Texas.
Before the surgery I had to go to these meetings and I was thinking six-eight weeks was a long time out, but they were saying six months for this and 12 months for that and I was like – no way! I’ve just tried to stay as fit as possible. I’ve not rushed anything – just done my best to look after myself. I only played nine holes for the first time the day before the Fourball and I was absolutely buzzing.
My goal has always been to be fit for the PGA Cup because I qualified for it and I’m definitely on schedule for that. It’s the first time they’ve ever had it and it’s a team of five PGA pros from Britain in Texas, where I went to college years ago. I’m excited because, apart from the Solheim Cup, it’s the only time you’ll ever to play for your country. At the start of this year, before any health issues, that’s the only thing I wanted to do golf-wise.
I love competing and travelling and before all this I was training hard and my game felt really good. Would I go to Tour school? I’m not sure because there aren’t as many events to play and I think as you get older, getting sponsorship becomes harder so it’s difficult to justify. Also because I’m teaching more. I’ve had a few invites to play on Tour this year – maybe people just feeling sorry for me – but I wasn’t able to take up either of them. But they have said that when I’m ready to play, I can get back out there. But if I go, I want to go and compete and play – so it wont be until next year.”