And there have been some bad days. A young woman does not easily endure a modified radical mastectomy (her underarm lymph nodes were removed with the breast in July 1989) nor the loss of her hair. For Farr the latter hit harder than the first. "Sounds backward, doesn't it?" she says. "But after reconstructive surgery, I was fine about the mastectomy. But [during the chemotherapy] when my hair started coming off in huge clumps, that was the worst." Worse even than the nausea, which was so bad that she didn't dare leave the house for fear of becoming sick in public. "There was just something about losing my hair," she says.
That was neither the end of Farr's ordeal nor the worst of it. Eleven months after her first chemotherapy treatments ended, doctors discovered that the cancer had spread. There were tumors on the back of her skull and on an upper vertebra. Farr chose the most aggressive treatment available, a bone-marrow transplant. But before that could be done, the tumor on her back—which ate away the vertebra until it collapsed, creating extreme pain and threatening to cause paralysis—would have to be removed.
The back surgery, which was performed in the spring of 1991, took 15½ hours and required the services of three teams of doctors. One surgical team cut her open in front and back, actually separating her shoulder muscle from the bone and laying it aside to be replaced later. Then a neurological team removed the tumor along with the damaged vertebra. Next an orthopedic unit removed a rib and fashioned a new vertebra from it, affixed it to her spine and attached a seven-inch rod to her backbone for stability.
And then came the bone-marrow transplant, a procedure that removes and treats a portion of the diseased marrow, then kills the remaining marrow with massive doses of chemotherapy as much as 10 times stronger than normal. To prevent infection, Farr was kept in isolation for 39 days following the procedure. She did not keep a meal down during that time, nor in the three months after her isolation. What nourishment she got was from what little food she could keep down, and she dropped from her playing weight of 122 pounds to 98. And after all that, the tumor on her skull remained. It was surgically removed last summer. And after all that, a lesion on her hip was discovered; it was treated with radiation last September. Then, this April, there were the three new spots on her skull and in her pelvic area.
Would that discourage you? Would it dishearten you for more than the 24 hours it took Heather Farr to make sense of her condition and then plan for a new course of treatment? "She's like a little cork," says her mother. "You can't keep her down."
Each recurrence means one more painful therapy. The latest has been among the worst. Farr's ability to fight off infection was zapped to zero by the chemo, and she was beset by what her mother describes as something like a monumental flu, but more dangerous. "She was critically ill," Sharon says. Doctors had to rig her with small pumps that automatically dosed her with a mix of seven drugs. "It was a rough week," says her mother, who accompanied her to Arlington. But by the end of the week, to her doctors' amazement, Heather was feeling great, and she was allowed to return to Phoenix. Next month she'll return to Arlington for further treatment.
As bad as all of that is, the worst for Farr may be the way the cancer prevents her from planning her life. In February she announced that she would be returning to the tour in 1993. She began practicing again. She announced her engagement to Goran Lingmerth, a former NFL placekicker. She moved her life along, even got around to decorating her home, adding drapes and all. She now has a handsome cabinet that holds her autographed baseballs and her Garth Brooks CDs. Then the shocking diagnosis, the troubling spots on her skull and in her pelvic area, put her life on hold again.
This is doubly frustrating to a person like Farr, who applies to her life an organization that is nearly comical. When she was 13 and pretty sure that golf was going to be her career, she approached the sisters at Xavier High School in Phoenix and outlined a three-year plan. She had looked down the line and realized that if she graduated at 18, she would be stuck with a summer of amateur tournaments, which were all match play. It would be better, this little teenager figured, if she graduated at 17—the age limit for junior golf—and could play her last eligible summer on the junior circuit, which featured stroke play. The whole point was that college golf is entirely stroke play, and she figured she would have an easier transition, high school to college, if she graduated from Xavier in three years. Of course, she did. "My daughter planned that far ahead?" asks Sharon, laughing. There is no planning now. That would take a terrible arrogance. Her wedding gown, ordered during a spasm of preparation last spring, awaits the convenience of her cancer. Farr will not many until she feels and, of course, looks healthy. It will be after December, no sooner, and her fiancé waits patiently. The golf is put aside too. During the Skins Game last spring, although told by her doctors not to expect too much, she was heartened that her swing remained intact. Whatever the doctors, and the cancer, had done to her body, the mechanics for golf had somehow survived. She still believes that golf will be there for her when her health returns.
In the meantime she waits in her patio home. She is buoyed by the support of her friends on the tour, who have been heroic in their concern. Ever since she lost her healthcare insurance last October, Farr has had to depend on her fellow golfers, who donated all of their pro-am earnings during a 10-week period to help defray her considerable medical expenses. (Now all of their pro-am earnings are contributed to a general fund that aids any player with extensive medical costs.) Their letters—and calls, when she can take them—are as valuable to her as the money. She keeps up with their golf and gossip and remains, as much as she's able, apart of that life.
Sitting in that patio home, waiting for remission, she suffers no self-pity. Instead she rails, to the extent that this ever-cheerful one can rail, against the Bush administration's tragic under-funding of breast cancer research. Farr tells you that one in nine women—your daughter? your fiancée?—will get the disease. "It's maddening," she says. "And the [government] research money is one tenth of what goes to AIDS. It's not fair."